Group Gordon’s Eloise Harnett explains how Jeff Bezos took control of a potential crisis by exposing a tabloid’s intimidation tactics.
Jeff Bezos made headlines once again this month for a public battle with the National Enquirer that left the tabloid burned. After the outlet published private text messages between Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, he launched an inquiry into how the messages were obtained. The National Enquirer tried and failed to put an end to his investigation.
In a lengthy blog post published on Medium, Bezos accused the National Enquirer of blackmail and extortion, publishing threatening emails from the outlet’s parent company, AMI, which warned him to stop his investigation or risk the release of embarrassing photos. Bezos successfully stripped the National Enquirer of its scoop, took control of the narrative, and shifted the focus from the controversial photos to AMI’s routine use of scare tactics and manipulation to get its story.
Why did Bezos’ strategy work?
Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, surprised the public by using Medium to tell his story rather than the pages of a reputable national news outlet. However, by choosing this format, Bezos was able to keep the focus on the facts at hand, avoiding a political fight between two diametrically opposed outlets. Through Medium, Bezos was able to tell his story in full, unmediated, including the unedited text of AMI’s threatening emails.
Bezos’ approach demonstrates the importance of transparency in addressing a crisis. And genuine transparency requires providing people with all of the facts, not just what feels comfortable for the brand. In Bezos’ case, transparency meant including descriptions of the controversial photos AMI was using to threaten him. While no public figure wants to admit they’ve taken a “below the belt selfie – otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick,’” Bezos understood that by painting the full picture, he would prove his credibility and come out on top.
Bezos acknowledged his unique power to fight back: “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion,” wrote Bezos, “how many people can?” By using his resources and platform to expose this extortion, he opened the door for “numerous people [who] have contacted [his] investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI and how they needed to capitulate because for example their livelihoods were at stake.”
Transparency is not always the easiest route to take when you are in hot water. But Jeff Bezos showed that when done swiftly and confidently, owning your misdeeds allows you to take control of the story and ultimately prevail.