Anonymity app pulls off one of the worst tech PR stunts ever attempted
Anonymity apps are all the rage in the Valley right now, with Whisper and Secret leading the pack. Here at Pando, we've discussed at length the problems with these services, whether it's Whisper turning anonymous, unsourced claims into pseudo-journalistic content or Secret's sociopathic founder who doesn't seem to care if teenagers commit suicide as long as it doesn't cause him a PR headache.
While being part of a hot trend can get you some early attention-by-association, it can also be difficult to break through the noise. And there's nothing like a good old PR stunt to get tech writers talking about you. But if the stunt is as scummy and spammy as the one attempted by this new anonymity service, you might not like what they have to say.
Over the past week or so, my coworkers and colleagues in tech reporting have been receiving messages from Leak. It lets you send anonymous emails and also aggregates the "best" Leaks, whatever that means, into a weekly email.
I don't see a whole lot of upside to the service. If you want to send creepy, passive aggressive messages to your friends and colleagues, just create a fake Gmail account like a normal sociopath. And the capacity for lies and bullying is just as present here as with Secret. Usually when a service like this comes along, I ponder for a moment the ridiculousness of covering tech in 2014 before immediately forgetting about it.
But there is something suspicious about the messages my colleagues and I have received. For example, today I received one "from a coworker, anonymously" that read "I do not were panties today, and I'm in the same office."
First off, I work from home. Second off, my coworkers are all journalists who know how to spell. And the fact that tech journalists from the New York Times, Fast Company, and Betabeat all also received similarly suspicious messages reeked of a cheap PR stunt.
And wouldn't you know it, I emailed the company to ask about the claims and here's what Laurent Desserrey, one of two friends behind the service, wrote back, in full:
Hi David, thank you for your email :)
It's definitely a PR stunt. Actually, my friend Seb and I got inspired by some of the best leaks exchanged so far.
We decided to send them to some journalists because we thought that it was funnier to live the Leak experience than receiving a regular press release.
Regarding the latest tweets seems that we've been a bit clumsy!!
You're free to leak back but.. be smarter than us ;)
We're open to give you as much information as you need, do not hesitate to reach us directly.
FYI, Leak is just a 48hours-made project between 2 friends Yes, I know I'm playing into the game by even writing about this, but hopefully this story bucks the old adage that "all press is good press."
Let this be a lesson to startups and PR reps everywhere: If you want to attract attention, don't do it by spamming writers with fake, sexually-charged messages. I do appreciate the founders' honesty and candor in their response. It's just too bad they didn't think to be a little classier from the start.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]