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All that Twitters is not Goldman


After sending more than 1,100 tweets and entertaining over 630,000 followers, it turns out the author of GS Elevator Gossip, who chronicles “things heard in Goldman Sachs elevators,” is not a Goldman Sachs employee and has probably spent little time in that company’s lifts since the @GSElevator handle debuted on Twitter in 2011.

The self-proclaimed fly on the walls of Wall Street’s most admired or reviled elevators is John Lefevre, a 34-year-old bond executive in Texas, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times. Lefevre’s inspiration for @GSElevator was a similar Twitter account, @CondeElevator, which featured bon mots from the staff of Condé Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair, Vogue and other glossies. The Goldman name apparently was chosen for its brand recognition on both Main Street and Wall Street.

On one hand, Mr. Lefevre’s response to his outing showed deft PR instincts: a proactive, accountable message, reinforced by an executive at a venerable publishing house.

Despite crafting an alter-ego and distancing himself from it for over three years, Mr. Lefevre preempted questions and much criticism by matter-of-factly confirming he never worked at Goldman. He pointed out that “he deliberately never said in any of his tweets that he worked for the firm.”

Reinforcing his position, the editor who paid a “six-figure sum” for Mr. Lefevre to write a book about Wall Street culture inspired by @GSElevator, said he and his publishing company were not misled by Mr. Lefevre. “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise,” the book editor, Matthew Benjamin of Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint, told The Times.

@GSElevator's 9/23/14 tweet: "Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable."

Still, one wonders whether Mr. Lefevre could have tweeted his way to such heights without the Goldman reference – particularly if the true intent was to lampoon Wall Street’s overall culture instead of one specific firm’s foibles. When you think about it, is “Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable” more or less retweetable because it’s ascribed to Goldman Sachs?

Time will tell whether Mr. Lefevre’s reputation ascends or crashes to earth based on this revelation. The whole affair might even be a candidate for the PR Verdict’s “There’s No ‘There’ There” award one future Friday. What remains relevant, however, to communications professionals is an observation Mr. Sorkin made in his original column:

“The ability of people like Mr. Lefevre to create anonymous Twitter accounts underscores concerns about the veracity of what is published and the identity of authors. It also raises questions about whether publishers are blurring the line between real life and the made-up kind.”

In the best of circumstances, transmitting messages and managing reputations is as much art as science. But as communications channels evolve, attention spans shrink and traditional media outlets compete for audiences, communications pros may need the compound eyes of flies to protect their clients, executives and reputations – and avoid unnecessary skirmishes.

What do you think?

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On my honor…

This post first appeared on the PR Verdict, March 18, a leading source of information for anyone who is interested in the news and how it’s shaped. Check it out at prverdict.com.

Boy Scouts PR Move: More Talk, Less Action

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) got a lucky PR break last week. As the Catholic Church prepared for the conclave, the PR spotlight was turned away from the U.S. organization that continues to ban openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders. The conclave inadvertently bought the BSA some breathing space as the Boy Scouts, just like the Catholic Church, grapples with the complex challenge of how to please its diverse constituents while remaining relevant for future generations. The BSA was out of the  PR heat – at least for a week.

The BSA stumbled earlier this year after a press leak, later confirmed, that suggested change was imminent on its policy regarding openly gay members. In fact, the BSA Board was deeply divided. Its solution? It deferred its decision and retreated from the public eye to regroup.

Now, in part to follow up on the recent controversy, the BSA is surveying adult Scouts and their families about the role of gay members and leaders in Scouting. Described as “neutral and not intended … to provide a certain outcome,” the BSA is at pains to point out that it is now listening to its members. But time will tell whether being in listening mode helps the BSA cure its PR ills.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Boy Scouts of America. Listening to members is fine, but sometimes leadership calls for just that: leadership.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Change the debate to change the crisis. Shifting the terms of the debate is a hallmark of good PR, and it is hard to quibble with asking members for their views; a survey just might identify attitudes and beliefs that can lead to meaningful discussions. In the long run, though, more will be needed. Sometimes leadership requires making a tough decision and taking a public stand. For an organization committed to building the minds, morals and characters of America’s future leaders, this is one  leadership lesson it can’t afford to ignore.

What do you think? Continue the conversation….