Theranos chief battles Wall Street Journal over article


After this week in reputation management, it may be time to “verb” another noun: Amazon.

To use it in a sentence:

Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes “Amazoned” The Wall Street Journal this week when she pushed back against claims it made against her company in a recent article.

What Amazon took 64 days to do, Holmes did much faster and in bolder fashion. Maybe the noun to “verb” should be Theranos. The Oxford English Dictionary editors can decide.

The Journal article, published Oct. 15, described a company struggling to turn its technology into reality. Theranos posted a response on its website the same day. Holmes went on “Mad Money with Jim Cramer” the following day and defended her company.

Holmes responded to the negative coverage in textbook reputation management fashion. Here are two key reputation management moves that Holmes executed correctly:

1. Respond quickly, candidly and decisively.

Communication is vital when managing a PR crisis. Theranos riposted quickly and thoroughly with a response on its website, and Holmes made herself available for interviews after the story broke.

Earlier this week, she spoke about the article on The Journal’s own turf. Wired reported that Wall Street Journal Digital Live had booked Holmes as a guest speaker prior to publishing its exposé, and many attending the technology conference wondered whether she would show up. She did, and she continued to dispute assertions made in the article.

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2. Choose the right spokesman (or woman) for the job.

As the company’s founder and CEO, Holmes was the ideal person for the job. PR pros prefer having the clout of a company’s top executive as its voice.

“It just makes you look good if the head of the company is talking to the press in an open, honest way,” Carol Ruiz, owner of NewGround PR and Marketing in California, says in a Professional Builder article.

Holmes was articulate and even-tempered as she sat face to face with the Journal’s technology editor, Jonathan Krim. Fast Company reported that Holmes said her father had always told her “the job of a reporter is to tell truth to the readers.”

She continued, “We’ve seen two articles that were false. And immediately everyone reprints it as if it were true.”

Not all rosy

Although Holmes has done those two things correctly in the article’s aftermath, there were missteps leading up to and soon after the article’s publication.

Holmes might have prevented The Journal article from being as scathing had she agreed to an interview. Investigative reporter John Carreyrou tried for more than five months to line up an interview, according to The Journal. Holmes finally agreed to be interviewed a week before the article published, but schedules couldn’t be coordinated.

Another misstep was when she likened The Journal to a tabloid during her appearance at the WSJD conference. That was “unnecessarily incendiary,” communications expert Tor Constantino told Entrepreneur.

Though Constantino deemed it risky to have Holmes go toe to toe with journalists early on, Juda Engelmayer of 5WPR in New York told Entreprenuer that he believes Theranos will weather the storm.

What do you think about Holmes’ recent actions, PR Daily readers? Has she properly defended her company, or has she gone overboard? Given the Amazon and Theranos responses, are we seeing this wave of pushback cresting, or is it a nascent tsunami?

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