Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
A Swiss publisher is trying to attract a paying audience with an app sampling stories across publications
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 10, 2009, 10:36 a.m.

New public relations: Beating back bad press with Google AdWords

The New York Times reported on its front page in September that hoki, an unattractive sea creature best known as the primary ingredient in the Filet-O-Fish, is at risk of depletion. Naturally, the New Zealand companies that farm hoki by the metric ton weren’t pleased by the article, which pointed to “ominous signs of overfishing.”

Time was, the subject of a critical news story could write a letter to the editor, issue a press release, maybe demand a correction. Not content with those options, the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council took an approach I hadn’t seen before: buying Google ads for keywords like new zealand hoki and hoki new york times.

The ads sought to target people discussing or searching for more information about the story. Here’s one that appeared in Gmail atop a message about hoki and the Times:

Now, I don’t really care who’s right in this dispute, though I should note the Times only apologized for using the trade association’s photograph without permission. The ads linked to a page that purports to set the record straight about hoki fishing and includes emails exchanged with Times science editor Laura Chang.

That was itself a feat of public-relations genius: Because the council’s hoki page was originally a straightforward description of the fish and its uses, the Times had linked to it in the third paragraph of the article (at right), and 78,000 people clicked though, according to Sarah Crysell, a spokeswoman for the council. Taking advantage of that incoming traffic, the group transformed its hoki page into a rebuttal of the Times story.

The man behind the effort — and similar campaigns for other clients — was Jim McCarthy of CounterPoint Strategies, a boutique PR firm in New York and Washington. He’s an aggressive guy who will run your ear off about “holding the media accountable for their deliberate falsehoods” and “arrogant reporters who have a one-sided agenda.”

That animus turns out to be a key element of McCarthy’s strategy: In addition to buying Google AdWords for combinations of keywords like new york times, hoki, and new zealand, McCarthy also targeted searches for the story’s author, William Broad.

“When you include their name in the search, it draws attention to it and lets the reporter know that you mean business and you’re going to hold them responsible,” McCarthy told me over the phone. For another seafaring client, the National Fisheries Institute, he bought Google ads against the names of three Vogue reporters — and their editor, Anna Wintour — who wrote about high levels of mercury in fish. “Someone inside of Condé Nast tried to outbid us for those search terms,” McCarthy said, though I can’t confirm the story. An example of one of the ads is at left.

Targeting reporters where they hang out online is McCarthy’s grating specialty. He went after ABC News, on behalf of the Formaldehyde Council, with ads (like the one at right) on Mediabistro’s TVNewser. “It was virtually a guarantee that they and all their competitors were going to see it,” McCarthy told me with more than a little relish. He has attempted to place similar ads on Romenesko, but the Poynter Institute declined to run them. (Crysell said the council hired McCarthy, in part, because “New Zealanders are far more modest in the way we express ourselves.”)

McCarthy calls his strategy “media accountability.” That’s spin. He’s representing his client’s interests like any other PR firm. But doing it with Google AdWords and links is a novel strategy that feels more effectual than a letter to the editor.

Hoki photo used with the permission of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council.

POSTED     Nov. 10, 2009, 10:36 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
A Swiss publisher is trying to attract a paying audience with an app sampling stories across publications
Tamedia’s 12-App collects the 12 best stories each day from the company’s 20-plus publications.
What does it take to be a “full-service” digital journalism organization? Ask Discourse Media
“We’ve gone down lots of experimental rabbit holes.”
Spain’s Eldiario.es has 18,000 paying members, and its eye on the next several million
“We have a potential of six million readers. You may not convince all six million people to be your socios, but if you learn more about their interests, you can get closer.”
What to read next
0
tweets
Newsonomics: In the platform wars, how well are you armed?
“Think about platforms as fishing places where you can find large, engaged audiences and build a relationship with them by providing content. Then offer these users some other services off-platform.”
0BuzzFeed is building a New York-based team to experiment with news video
It is the “center of a Venn diagram” between BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and BuzzFeed News.
0Newsonomics: Can a Bezos buddy act help fend off Gannett’s bid for Tribune?
Tribune Publishing’s Michael Ferro says he wants to bring The Washington Post’s Arc CMS to its newspapers. Is that a grasp at credibility or a model for other news companies to outsource their tech stacks?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Fiscal Times
MSNBC
The Dish
The Batavian
Knight Foundation
Storify
The New York Times
E.W. Scripps
Investigative Reporting Workshop
Financial Times
Public Radio International
Politico