Anyone who saw BBC’s Have I Got News For You last week, will have heard Ian Hislop give a potted history of what happened when energy and mining firm Trafigura tried to gag The Guardian newspaper recently. The Guardian has been covering how the dumping of toxic waste in 2006 has severely affected the Ivory Coast, and the involvement of Trafigura. Trafigura’s legal firm Carter-Ruck, obtained an injunction barring The Guardian from reporting a question from MP Paul Farrelly to justice secretary Jack Straw published in a House of Commons order paper last Tuesday, 13 October, but had to abandon its claim that reporting parliament would have been a contempt of court.
Research supplied by Echo Sonar
The Guardian was obviously delighted with its victory, while Carter-Ruck’s action created a considerable amount of debate online. In an article on 21 October at guardian.co.uk, journalist Martin Moore writes: “Guardian's courageous decision to challenge the remit of the Trafigura super-injunction sparked justified outrage in the blogosphere and ‘Twitterverse’ and led to a climbdown by Trafigura's lawyers, Carter-Ruck”.
According to research commissioned by PRmoment and conducted by Echo Sonar, the online buzz created by the action of Carter-Ruck was significant, with a total of 2,833 mentions. The research tracked online conversation of the Trafigura press embargo, which reached a crescendo on 13 October when Carter-Ruck withdrew its gagging attempt. The Guardian’s blogs attracted the largest audience, and blogs in general made up two-thirds of the online gossip, while micro-blogs, including Twitter, made up one-quarter of the gossip.
Research supplied by Echo Sonar
Although numerous users of Twitter discussed the Trafigura story, the research demonstrates that more people will have read about the embargo on blogs posted on news sites – the top two being guardian.co.uk and time.com. As Gemma Plant, client manager at Echo Sonar explains: “In reviewing the conversation on social media sites surrounding the Trafigura embargo, we identified that 66.2% of posts appeared on blog sites. We found that while a large number of posts appeared on Microblogs (24.8%) such as Twitter, these posts were not as influential (did not have as many people viewing or linking into them) as blogs appearing on The Guardian, The Telegraph and the BBC, for example.”
It appears that while the attempted gagging order created negative PR for Trafigura and Carter-Ruck, it did great things for both The Guardian’s and Twitter’s reputations. Although, as our research shows, the influence of Twitter may have been somewhat exaggerated.
The whole episode is a good lesson in what not to do when a client gets bad publicity. A dignified silence is usually preferable to drawing the media‘s attention to something that you would rather it ignored. Independent PR consultant Jeremy Walters has worked in the industry for 20 years, and he believes that when things get difficult, sometimes the best action is no action: “I can definitely say that it's best to keep quiet and hope it goes away.” Walters adds that he has noticed how the media has become increasingly sensationalist, and that, “huge coverage today is often forgotten tomorrow. After all, how many times have you seen a double-page spread on a story and three months later a retraction piece amounting to one small paragraph on page five?” Walters’ advice is simple: “Best to hope it goes away – normally it does.”
PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to measure the online conversation of the Trafigura press embargo through social media channels. The research period was from 18 September to 19 October 2009. Metrics included trends and topics. The media analysed was all global social media, and metrics included buzz volume, leading social media and media types.
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