When a PR agency representing Microsoft accidentally sent a detailed dossier on a journalist to another journalist, it was greeted mostly with laughs. Gizmodo’s staff writer Sophie Kleeman found the errant Microsoft email sent to her tech publication “both illuminating and entertaining.” But what the email more specifically points out is the logical activity top firms use to track journalists so they know who and how to pitch stories – and what journalists should be avoided. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The real news might occur when similar tracking and confidential reports are released about Wall Street journalists.

Microsoft Mark Sullivan
Image Credit: Gizmodo

My bad: Microsoft PR firm accidentally emails confidential analysis of another journalist to Gizmodo

An email sent to various Microsoft executives discussing the media roll-out regarding a new Skype product included a detailed discussion of what publications the software giant’s PR firm would first approach with a story as well as a detailed profile of the journalist that might conduct the interview.

Attached to the email was a corporate dossier on Mark Sullivan, a senior writer for Fast Company. Sullivan was the journalist being considered to land an interview with top Microsoft executive Gurdeep Singh Pall, a corporate vice president involved in the Skype chatterbot launch.

The email, apparently sent by WE Communications to Gizmodo, showed that Sullivan was the second choice after Wired passed on the interview opportunity due to scheduling conflicts and discussed communications strategy.

Who gets the big stories?

The e-mail illuminates how corporations view the media and determine who might receive certain stories and exclusive interviews.

In the dossier Sullivan’s writing style and industry knowledge is considered as well as the number of Twitter followers he has garnered. “Mark writes straightforward articles,” the document states, focusing on his “ten years of experience” and pointing out that he is “well versed on all things tech and he tends to focus on his stories differentiating features and consumer benefits.”

The profile included Mark’s “anticipated Questions / Sensitivities” and noted that he wasn’t much of a fan of Facebook’s automated chatterbot. “Off the record, he finds Facebook bots to be boring and not very smart.”

Microsoft’s PR apparatus was sanguine about the issue when asked by Gizmodo for comment, responding that detailed journalist analysis is important to approaching the right journalists with the correct story:

As you might expect, we work to make sure all of our spokespeople come into any interview prepared. This includes being clear about what the interview is about, as well as giving them context on who they will be talking to. It also includes reminding them about previous interactions with the reporter, a synopsis of recent coverage and relevant information the reporter might have shared via other public sites like Twitter. We do this to ensure the interview is a good use of time for both parties.

Keeping detailed analysis of journalists should come as no surprise, the question is: when will a Wall Street leak occur?

It should come as no surprise that corporations keep detailed intelligence reports on reporters. Fred Vogelstein of Wired received a similar email from Microsoft in 2007 containing a 5,500 word analysis about the journalist.

In fact, it would be shocking if corporations and the PR firms they hire didn’t engage in such detailed analysis. A PR firm’s stated goal is to obtain positive press coverage that achieves a business objective, after all.

The real issue is that these reports are now surfacing in public. While the incidents are currently limited to the tech community, rumors have been rampant that major Wall Street firms keep detailed analysis of various journalists. These dossiers just haven’t made it into public view, yet.

While there have been no such documented instances, sources who have previously spoken with this reporter have indicated Wall Street journalists are analyzed based in part on their independence and desire to uncover a scoop (negatives) and their ability to “stick to a script.” The reality in Wall Street coverage is that sacrifices often are required in order to access certain interviews and confidential stories. One potential reason why such Wall Street journalist dossiers have not been made public is due to the care with which PR professionals guard the information.

In the generally tight-knit world of Wall Street journalism, gaining access to a PR executive’s black-book analysis of various reporters might be the most interesting story of the year.