Russia! Magazine: Leaked Emails Shed Light on Russia's Largest PR Battle of 2012-2013

May 09, 2013, 07:43 ET from RUSSIA! Magazine

NEW YORK, May 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Russian supporters of the Anonymous group have posted online an email exchange of black PR specialists responsible for tarnishing the reputation of Togliattiazot (ToAZ), a major ammonia producer based in Tolyatti, a Russian city on the Volga, writes RUSSIA!, an English-language magazine devoted to coverage of Russian business, culture, and media. The email exchange revealed how paid stories are placed in the press, how Russian media operate, and who is behind the attacks on a major Russian industrial company. Leaked emails of black PR artists have become one of the biggest news of the Russian PR community in 2013.

Black PR, just like the practice of initiating criminal investigations, is a common tool of corporate blackmailers in Russia, who start a flow of negative news about a certain company to put pressure on it and either take it over at well below its market value or extort a large amount of "protection money" to stop the attack. The information war on ToAZ – the unending stream of more or less preposterous "news" stories that started in 2012 and has covered the gamut from ToAZ management allegedly buying a European football club to creating a secret UFO base at the company – attracted strong interest in the PR community which was shocked when "hactivists" put the full email exchange of PR specialists responsible for this information war on the web in March 2013. The emails made everything very transparent: from methods to cost to the identity of customers, with PR artists using telling email addresses, such as "zhora.razmesti" (which means paid story placement in Russian).

Black PR specialists invented the news pegs in a way designed to undermine the reputation of ToAZ as much as possible in the eyes of Tolyatti residents, the Russian authorities and leadership and all Russians at large.

"[We are interested] in negative coverage of ToAZ," says one of the emails addressed to regional media outlets. "We are asking you to run these negatives on Togliattiazot. We are looking for long-term cooperation here, and we're even ready to pay you for not taking off the stories if ToAZ should issue a rebuttal."  The topics dark PR artists spent the most effort and money cultivating included false reports of ToAZ management buying a football club and a luxury hotel in Europe, financing a revolution, allegedly impending environmental disasters and tax evasion – the topics which could cause maximum damage to Togliattiazot reputation.

"We are happy to have a rate opportunity to explore for our own elucidation and reveal to the readers the unique world of Russian black PR and Russian media in general," says Robert Nell, editor of the RUSSIA! Business blog, Wild East. "Trust in the media in the country is now at a very low ebb, the audience has long since learned to tell real news apart from paid pieces, but we are sure that the readers will find this interesting. We got access to more than 10,000 emails from PR artists and believe that the PR campaign against ToAZ must have cost the customer several million dollars," Nell adds.

ToAZ claims that the campaign against their reputation was launched by its minority shareholder Uralchem. The leaked email correspondence corroborates this – the PR artists attempted to place stories whitewashing the reputation of Uralchem management and Dmitry Mazepin.

RUSSIA! Magazine
(917) 475 6452