A golden rule of corporate PR? Threatening to sue a newspaper or media outlet is a waste of time. Even trying to intimidate through an endless volley of legal letters usually backfires. Unless you can call out a media outlet on its polices and procedures, complaining about perceived unfairness usually falls on deaf and everlastingly hostile ears. Which is why Bloomberg’s recent misstep with Goldman Sachs makes interesting reading.
Bloomberg, a robust news organization, prides itself on high standards and journalist integrity, but is now wiping egg from its face following the admission and subsequent apology that its journalists had access to certain client information from its terminals ubiquitous on every trading floor. This included user’s login information and other general details including help desk inquiries. Bloomberg issued a quick apology and swiftly announced changes in procedure. It has since stressed that at no time did reporters have access to trading and monitoring systems or to clients’ messages to one another (the stuff that really matters).
When Goldman Sachs, routinely held accountable in the public eye, discovered that its employees were being monitored by Bloomberg journalists with access to private data, a formal complaint was made. This must have the been the gotcha moment. No news organization likes to be accused of an ethical breach and this was one case where Goldman could flex its own muscle and claim the moral high ground.
The PR Verdict: “A” for Goldman Sachs for scoring a public and ethical win.
The PR Takeaway: Integrity is the Achilles’ heel. No doubt Goldman Sachs has previously had its fair share of battles with Bloomberg but complaining to news organizations about bias and unfairness rarely works. This time it was different. A bruised eye for a leading news organization and a PR point for Goldman Sachs for starting a news cycle debate about journalist integrity. When there is a breach of procedure any PR is on firm ground to go ahead and complain. Choose your battles wisely.