On fake leaks and PR agencies in new technologies

February 23rd 2018

On fake leaks and PR agencies in new technologies

It's funny how digital communication works these days. Especially in the world of new technologies. You'd think there are plenty of unofficial insiders leaking documents and photos just because they know the right people inside a company. But that could not be far from the truth.

As a technology journalist, I have observed lots of pseudo "leaks", that is, bits of information on a specific product that people are eager to discover and to know more about. And for no particular reasons, before big worldwide events, like CES or The Mobile World Congress, leaks are going strong. How convenient! And that usually happens just before press conferences that take place either on the Sunday afternoon/night or on the Monday morning. Perfect timing to get people and naive journalists all excited.

Sure, I do not believe any serious journalists out there actually believe in those information to come from true leaks. At least not when they come from just from the same people and at the right marketing time. Yet, because of the buzz effects, they do have to talk about them in order to drive traffic to their website and keep a faithful audience.

Not long ago, you'd get blurry shots of products to the point where leaks had to be showing a blurry photo to be credible. Now you get photos of products directly produced by the marketing team.

On the other side, many of those readers out there are ordinary consumers who do not necessarily know all the underground marketing techniques used online these days.

The @evleaks example

Take @evleaks for instance. The Twitter account, which apparently belongs to a certain Evan Blass, is well known for publishing photos, specs or prices of upcoming smartphones. In his profile, Evan Blass describes himself as a mobile reporter. What he omits to say is that he also runs a very smart PR agency.

I remember specifically when I was working for the French technology website Clubic.com. We had an exchange with a representative of the Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus. They were about to unveil the OnePlus 3 device. We had received the phone a couple of weeks before in order to publish a full review on the launch date. Yet instructions were clear: we were not allowed to publish before 3p.m.

You have to wait because we have organized some leaks here and there just before 3pm. You should see them coming on @evleaks.

What the PR told us is that OnePlus was working with @evleaks so that the Twitter account could get the crowd excited about a specific feature of the smartphone. Of course the goal was to gather as much social noise as possible around that event in order to outshine the competition.

Now if you follow that Twitter account, you can have an idea of the number of clients Evan Blass works with. OnePlus, Nokia, BlackBerry, Alcatel, Sony... Most of the smartphone industry. Most. Yeh, unfortunately, and funny enough, @evleak never mentions anything about Apple products. And that's simply because Apple does not work with this new-of-a-kind PR agency.

A smart approach at the expense of the consumer

On a marketing point of view, I find this technique quite smart. In the tech world, all the rage is about smartphones. This is a highly competitve landscape and in the past, phone makers have learned, at their expense, that leaks are particularly exciting for tech enthusiats. How damaging they may be for the company...

So they simply decided to safely organize those leaks themselves by controlling the information, creating the buzz and stopping real leakers to investigate. On his side, Evan Blass can simply plays a phone manufacturer against another so that, in effect, most of them want a part of that social noise. Clever.

Yet, on an ethical point of view, that's also a way of fooling virtually all consumers who actually truly believe in those leaks. And, nope, that's not quite right.