Chevron Gets Pranked

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    The latest trend in attacks presents new crisis management challenges

    You’ve probably already heard of the fake Chevron PR campaign, an elaborate and temporarily effective attack by activists. For those that missed it, the elaborate prank, whose aim was to draw attention to questionable environmental practices, involved not only a fake website, but an entire series of false documents, including press releases featuring made up quotes from Chevron officials, and even a spoofed Ad Age Web page reporting on the story. This type of attack is becoming more and more common, and is likely to continue growing in popularity as more are successful. Here is one expert’s view of the future, from an AdAge.com article about the incident:

    “It’s an increasingly troubling issue,” said Gene Grabowski, senior VP, Levick Strategic Communications. “We live in a time when some of the most trusted names in news are satire shows like ‘The Daily Show,’ ‘The Onion’ and ‘The Colbert Report.’ We live in an era where satire is now the news source for people. And recently Mr. Colbert testified before congress, so increasingly consumers don’t know the difference between satire, comedy and news, so it’s only natural that individuals and organizations who want to take advantage of that would launch mock PR campaigns.”

    Mr. Grabowski said companies will have an uphill battle trying to combat these pranks. “It’s like a thumb trap, the more the company tries to defend itself, the more it becomes part of the story and that makes it more interesting. The company being attacked can’t effectively fight back itself and that’s why these tactics are so effective.”

    These types of attacks present a serious crisis management concern, as even when consumers recognize that they are fake, they are usually presented in such a slick and entertaining manner that they are shared among peers, and, with the vast majority of that sharing happening online, they have a dangerous propensity for going viral.

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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]