OLD Media Moves

A former corporate PR head spills the beans about coverage

June 24, 2009

Trudy Lieberman of Columbia Journalism Review has a revealing Q&A interview with Wendell Potter, a former head of corporate communications for CIGNA, the country’s fourth-largest insurer, and now a senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy.

Potter talks about dealing with business reporters covering the company. What makes this interview even more revealing — to me — is that Potter was one of the people I dealt with when covering CIGNA in the early 1990s for BusinessWeek.

Here is an excerpt:

TL: How did you spin the press to the industry’s way of thinking?

WP: Over the years I developed relationships with key reporters. When you do that, you are in a much better position to influence the tone and content of stories reporters write, or at least be sure that your company’s key messages are included. It’s similar to the way special interests woo members of Congress. It’s not just money; it’s relationships.

TL: Did you ever deliberately mislead the press?

WP: I would say yes, if you mean not disclosing some pertinent information at times. PR people are always making selective disclosures of information. That’s what you do. I did not knowingly provide inaccurate information.

TL: How do reporters know what’s missing?

WP: They don’t. That’s why it’s really important to know what you’re covering.

Read more here.

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