Wendell Potter, author of "Deadly Spin," a critique of heath industry PR, said in New York Nov. 16 that PR’s adoption of e-mail as the dominant method of handling press calls is destroying traditional PR/press relationships and crippling communications.

Potter at NYU Nov. 16.
Potter, as part of a 22-city tour to promote the book, addressed an audience of 15 at the New York University Bookstore for nearly two hours.

One of his goals is to teach Americans to be wary of techniques for improperly manipulating opinion whether they are practiced by companies, PR firms, the government or the press itself.

Personal relationships between PR pros and reporters have declined with the advent of e-mail which provides a permanent record of any conversations between press and PR, he noted.

A chapter in his book on the death of Nataline Sarkisyan, Los Angeles teenager who was scheduled for a liver transplant after initial reluctance to pay for it by Cigna, has a passage on e-mail.

Potter was chief spokesperson for Cigna at that time. The company initially refused to pay for the transplant but agreed to do so after the family launched a PR campaign.

'Take It or Leave It'

Potter chatted with audience members after the event.
Wrote Potter:
“E-mail had become the most common way we communicated with reporters. It enable us to click and ‘send’ and dispatch a statement that usually had been blessed (if not already written) by an ad hoc committee of lawyers, corporate doctors, and businesspeople.

“With e-mail, we were sending not just a statement but a broader message: ‘Here’s our response to your question. Take it or leave it. It’s all we’re going to say.’

“More often than not, reporters would take it and not bother us for more information. They were often on a deadline, and even if they weren’t, they knew from experience that they weren’t going to get much more from us.”

A theme of the Potter book is that corporate PR tries to exercise as much control as possible over mentions of the company in the media and also exercises strict control over who gets to interview corporate executives.

As noted in a blog on this website Oct. 25, corporate events where New York PR pros and press socialized have all but disappeared as well as many of the 25 corporate and agency PR groups that used to meet in the 1970s and 80s.