3 PR lessons from Amazon’s battle with The New York Times


Better late than never—or, maybe, better never than late.

This week Jay Carney, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Amazon, posted a counterpunch to a scathing story about the online retailer that ran Aug. 16 in The New York Times. That piece, posted on Medium, resulted in a response from the Times on that same site.

The sniping match has caught public relations pros’ attention.

Here are three PR lessons to be learned from these recent events:

1. Social media can provide a platform to defend your organization.

A key frustration for many PR pros before the advent of social media was the difficulty in combatting inaccuracies and negativity in news stories. A call to an editor may have resulted in a correction printed in the bottom left corner of an inside news page, or a fleeting mention on an evening broadcast, but it how could that undo what previously had been written or said?

Social media levels the playing field. Organizations with blogs and sizable social media followings can counter inaccuracies and address perceived negative slants. They also can rest assured their message is reaching a large audience.

That’s what Carney did. He provided another view for several portions of the Times’ article where he said he felt the publication got it wrong, and a large audience read his side of the story.

2. Social media can be a double-edged sword.

A company takes a risk any time it takes to its own social media platforms to publicly respond to an unfavorable story, because it leaves a question of whether the action does more harm than good.

If you’re going to take to your own social media soapbox, act quickly, but make sure your approach is well thought-out.

Carney responded to The New York Times’ story more than 60 days after it was published. Sixty days is a light-year given today’s fast-paced news cycle. Carney’s move led some to question whether he unnecessarily revived a negative story that already had died a natural death.

The question to ask is whether telling your side of the story is worth the gamble of

solidifying your connection to the negative story.

3. Neither side wins when an ugly battle goes public.

It’s tough to say whether the Amazon vs. The New York Timesfight helped the newspaper sell more subscriptions or Amazon move more books, Frank Strong says on his blog, Sword and the Script:

Sure, both organizations are probably more interested in clicks, but a continuing public match that’s two months old doesn’t help the reputation of either organization,” Strong says. It’s merely cannon fodder for Buzzfeed or Gawker, or one of those thin content organizations with click-bait headlines.

Fully comprehend what is at stake before you go into battle, and make sure your actions don’t result in losing the war.

What do you think, readers? Was Amazon right to defend its honor, or should it have let this high-profile story remain last season’s news?