Dear Mr. Hughes –
As a fellow Public Relations professional, I was excited to read your recent e-mail to Deadspin on behalf of your client, which you refer to as the "organization overseeing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar." It is not every day that I get the opportunity to witness some of our most difficult work – pitching a defense of companies and organizations that are in a bit of a pickle – in practice. I have to admit, though, that I was a little concerned about your approach. In the spirit of collegiality and the advancement of our profession, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what you did right and where you could have made different choices.
Paul – is it ok if I call you Paul? Right off the bat, by using Mr. Craggs's first name, you're assuming a familiarity with your target that you don't yet have. That is a big mistake because it sets the wrong tone. No matter how little regard we have for those we are pitching, we should at least pretend. Address the target formally at first and then ask if it is ok to address him by his given name the second time around. It is courteous but, at the same time, conversational and welcoming. It helps to put the other person at ease. Remember, much of PR is exactly the same as cultivating friendships, except fake friendships. Very fake friendships based solely on meeting the needs of your client.
First allow me to introduce myself. My name is Paul Hughes and I am Head of International Media Relations for the Supreme Committee of Delivery & Legacy – the organization overseeing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Am I right in assuming that it is too late to do anything about the name of your organization? To be blunt: there is little that suggests evil more than adding the word "supreme" to a title. And never forget the cardinal rule that the more evil one is, the less evil one should try to appear to be. For example:
As you can see from the above chart, your current ratio is disastrously off-target.
As Editor-in-Chief of Deadpsin, I assume you have built up a respectable pedigree in your field and have the highest standards.
Standardized language is the nature of the beast when you are a busy PR professional but you should modify as appropriate to fit the rest of the communication, which in this case suggests you have little regard for the intelligence of Deadspin's staff or readers. Consistency is important in order to at least appear sincere.
Also, I am guessing you did not do much research about Deadspin before firing off this e-mail. Your target should always feel like you know him and his work. Opening all e-mails with "I read your piece on X and enjoyed it because Y" gives the impression that your target is special and not just one of many you are contacting throughout the day. I assume you were e-mailing members of the media left and right yesterday because of all of the attention being paid to your client's horrendous safety and human rights record but that is no excuse to just throw shit at the wall and see if it sticks. In fact the gravity of the situation makes it all the more important to customize your shit to the individual.
If that is indeed the case, sadly the article by your writer Tom Ley falls way short of those standards.
Again, doing your research ahead of time is important. Here is an example of Deadspin's high standards.
Firstly the headline;Qatar's World Cup Expected To Take More Lives Than 9/11.
Is it because an Arab country is hosting the World Cup you thought this was a clever and shocking headline? For the sake of coming across as a decent open-minded person, I certainly hope not. However, I can't really think of any other reason to bring such a damaging image into people's minds. Perhaps you can enlighten me...
Your overall strategy of questioning the rationale for such evocative imagery isn't a bad one but your execution is flawed. It is too easy to "enlighten" you about other, legitimate reasons for the comparison between the expected lives lost building stadiums in Qatar and those lost on 9/11. For example, it is putting the trajectory of deaths caused by your client's casual disregard for the stadium laborers in a factually accurate context that a particularly American audience will understand.
It is also important to remember that accusing people of possibly racist motives is always a risky choice because racism is not a desirable trait to have – it doesn't flatter your target. It should be reserved for the direst of circumstances, such as when a client is accused of murder, not just forced labor and confiscating migrant workers' documents so as to limit their potential for escape.
And that's before we actually address the factual inaccuracies in the headline, let alone the report.
This would have been an excellent jab were you to have actually followed up with your claimed factual inaccuracies. It is always good to have at least a few cold, hard facts to spin.
It is one thing for the ITUC to claim 4000 people will die building World Cup stadiums without any justification. It is another thing completely for media outlets with giant followings such as Deadspin just to take their word for it. Have you actually ever sat down and questioned that claim, or are you just accepting it as fact instead of the sound-bite it is?
'The ITUC concludes that the principal cause of all of these deaths is the horrible working conditions that migrant workers suffer through every day,'
A little chagrin isn't a bad thing when arguing that you have been unfairly maligned – especially if the tone can help distract from the speciousness of the claim. Strategically, though, you have to be careful not to undercut yourself by highlighting the conclusion of a well-sourced, credible report that paints your organization in a less-than-flattering light. In bold.
Tommy, have you looked into the facts of this issue? Have you even asked your reporter to get some context or find out the cause of deaths in Qatar? Has it never crossed your mind it may be because of something other than construction incidents? If you have then I'm amazed a paragraph like this was allowed to appear on your website.
I have to say I love this section. This is excellent deflection. Your evidence that your organization isn't going cause the deaths of 4000 people building World Cup stadiums can remain secret if you just turn it around and point out how wrong the media is to report things based on non-secret evidence. Or, you know, just toss some interrogatives into a smarmy salad and hope that scuttles the issue altogether.
There are 500,000 Indians living in Qatar. Since 2011 around 450-500 Indians have died due to any number of reasons. Without diminishing the value of human life, I would urge you to at least consider those numbers for some sort of context to the mortality rate of that particular demographic.
Listen, Paul. You know and I know that people die every day all over the place. But in this case they are dying because your client's business model includes subjecting the stadium workers to horrific working conditions. This is not information that puts your client in its best light. And given that your organization is apparently unwilling to implement life-saving safety standards for the stadium and infrastructure workers, your only chance at protecting the value of human life is quality e-mail pitches to the American media. Bringing things down by emphasizing all the dead migrants is not high quality PR. Instead, point to all of the workers that are still alive (for now).
Here's another fact. In almost 50,000 man hours, the Supreme Committee has not had one single injury or fatality on World Cup projects. [Ed. note:Huh?] That, unlike the ITUC's "estimation" is a fact. Another fact is that before the ITUC released this report, we had to contact them and point out several inaccuracies in their report which related to our Worker Welfare Standards and the accusations leveled at the Supreme Committee. These inaccuracies were duly noted in private even if not in public.
Others have already pointed out that your reliance on the lack of injuries suffered by the Supreme Committee itself may be misplaced. How many injuries can you get diving into piles of bribe money and ignoring human rights offenses? So instead I will just congratulate you on your use of "private-information-that-you-swear-totally-exists" as a defense.
There are problems to be addressed in Qatar, problems the government are trying to fix right now. Following a two day investigation, an independent delegation from the European Parliament held a press conference in Doha tonight, acknowledging the government for their work in taking steps to progress the situation.
No-one is denying that things are not perfect. What we are being denied is the chance to put both sides of the story across. I would urge you to maintain the standards that got you to the position you now hold. I think your 600,000 followers deserve it.
While I admire the hutzpah of claiming the mantle of victimhood in a situation that involves the hundreds and soon to be thousands of deaths of forced laborers, it may not be the wisest choice. Let's face it: the public is easily duped into thinking that the lives of dime-a-dozen migrant workers matter. Instead, it would be more effective to just present whatever facts you have in support of your client's assertion that it has been inaccurately maligned and ask for the article to be updated with those facts. And given that you say the government is trying to fix the problems you admit exist, and that there was a press conference that acknowledged those attempts, this would appear to be an excellent (if late) point in the letter to lay out all the facts supportive of your assertions.
In the meantime, I suggest you re-visit the headline.
On the other hand, to paraphrase someone who knew the value of good publicity, sometimes you go to the media with the facts you have, not the facts you want.
It is currently being reviewed by our legal team - not least because of the direct comparison to the worst atrocity on US soil. And in the future, please give careful consideration to future reports on Qatar
Strategically, threatening your target with litigation so close to making your "ask" isn't wise, especially when even someone with a laymen's understanding of the law would recognize the threat as completely unfounded. As long as your organization has a legal team, however, maybe they can advise you on free speech and a variety of relevant international laws, such as those against trafficking, forced labor, peonage, and involuntary servitude. It may come in handy some day.