Phony Baloney: When Press Releases Go Awry (or on Rye)


In our last installment, we left you with a closing item about General Mills having to quickly snuff out a fake news release saying that the President of the United States (POTUS — in Secret Service talk) was investigating the company’s supply chain for alleged product recalls. The makers of many mainstream cereals like Wheaties (Breakfast of Lakers, er, Champions) and many other product lines jumped on the pseudo news release with a real one of their own, stating that it was indeed false and the authorities likewise would be investigating (but most likely not with POTUS, since he’s now up to his waist in Gulf oil and up to his nose in methane gas, plus holding the feet of BP officials to the fire of the “small people” along the gulf…. Careful, there are combustible elements here…).

This issue again calls for the critical importance of having a good crisis plan in place to handle a brand’s public reputation and good monitoring systems to track it.  This kind of prank news can tank the stock of a publically traded company like General Mills and others within minutes (fortunately, the New York Stock Exchange was closed when the hokum release went out over PR Newswire).  General Mills, however, did all the right things by quickly refuting the news release for what it was — in so many foodie words, phony baloney.

According to General Mills spokesperson, Tom Forsythe, quoted in the Twin Cities media, “We were the victim of a hoax. We found the false release and removed it within minutes, but even false information can still spread incredibly quickly on the Internet.” Got that right.  The Internet some days seems built just for jackals and jackasses only. The lesson is that in the PR management of any company’s public face whether on the stock exchange or on the Web, the m.o. must constantly be, Remain Vigilant. What kind of protection or systems do you have in place to track what’s being said about you online, in social network channels, and elsewhere offline? This part of the PR world is often a highly specialized practice area and some firms and individuals are very good at doing it.

In this case, the jackal seemed to be attempting to manipulate the company’s stock price through the very traditional means of a PR distribution service that remains blameless in the incident. Seemingly undaunted by the fraud, the food maker’s stock rose 16 cents on Thursday, June 17, 2010 — a day after the false news, so no harm done. This time.

What’s curious about the event is that it occurred in the same week the NYSE halted trading of shares of the Washington Post, when the stock doubled in price in apparent erroneous trades — on the same day that the new “circuit breakers” to prevent such hanky panky were put in place. It’s a wiggly world and getting wigglier, especially with the global economy still  bursting at the beltline and surrounded by all sorts of malodorous gasses while unseen forces try to game or crash the system.

A conspiracy theorist might have a real picnic with these two seemingly unrelated events at General Mills and the Washington Post. A conspiracy factualist — one who accepts that conspiracies do sometimes happen and not just in good movies, or good Old Europe where the small people are being trampled about by the cratering Euro — might simply just go make a  sandwich, and remain vigilant.


For more resources, see the Library topic Public and Media Relations.


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