That massive thud on Monday was the sound of jaws dropping at the news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, one of the most venerated newspapers in the US, from the Graham family, which owned it for 80 years. The pricetag of $250 million is almost pocket change to Bezos, representing about one percent of his estimated $25 billion personal fortune. Perhaps that’s why some conjectured that Bezos, who pours millions into pet projects like spaceflight and a clock that will run for 10,000 years, made the purchase for the fun of it.
Media and business pundits will no doubt continue to try to explain, praise, or pan the acquisition. As one observer noted, Bezos and the Graham family eschewed the theatrics that often accompany major announcements where tech sector luminaries are involved. News of the sale went public quietly, initially in a hushed Post staff meeting and with a letter from Bezos posted on the WaPo website.
Well played all around. The understated announcement evinced the Graham family’s sensitivity to the interests and sentiments of gobsmacked Post employees (not to mention investors in the soon-to-be-private media property). For Bezos, whose retail empire began with antiquating the book industry, and who last year predicted the death of print inside 20 years, a more visible PDA – Public Display of Acquisition – might be a tad unseemly.
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Graham family and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, for standing back and letting the most significant media acquisition of the year speak for itself.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: When the news you have shouts on its own, tell it in a whisper. Two other major media transactions – the sales of Newsweek and the Boston Globe – occurred at virtually the same time as the Post sale, but does anyone remember? The Post transaction leaves open a lot of questions, stirs emotions, will have far-ranging impact, both in media and tech. By keeping things understated and matter-of-fact, both sides were well served in presenting a “business-as-usual” front on a transaction that is anything but.