Surely every PR pro who ever issued a press release has hoped the organization’s news would be spread far and wide.
Still, it was probably beyond the wildest dreams of copywriters at Exxon Mobil to find part of the company copy repeated in a White House press release.
A statement from President Donald Trump on Monday congratulated the multinational petroleum company, lifting several sentences directly from a press release issued the same day, multiple news organizations reported.
The cribbing of copy set off groans of exasperation on Twitter, rebukes from journalists and an avalanche of negative stories for what journalists were describing as an unforced error by the administration.
Exxon Mobile, however, stated that the practice was commonplace in previous administrations and among other companies. They offered no specifics.
The Washington Post reported, “The White House was on the same page as ExxonMobil on Monday. Literally.” The Daily Beast headlined its piece, “White House Statement Plagiarizes ExxonMobil.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper echoed the sentiment.
White House press release plagiarizes paragraph from Exxon press release. pic.twitter.com/hHEKVWUsDn
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 6, 2017
Washington Post data reporter Christopher Ingraham was apparently the first to notice the overlapping wording, The Independent reported.
White House press release (left) contains full paragraph copied verbatim from Exxon press release (right). pic.twitter.com/NlhoUvdqvd
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) March 6, 2017
The White House press release was titled “President Trump Congratulates Exxon Mobil for Job-Creating Investment Program,” and it congratulated the company on a $20 billion investment program that it said would create 45,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. The statement came out shortly after the petroleum giant also touted the investment plan.
“One full paragraph appeared nearly identically word for word in each release,” The Post stated. “Another sentence appeared almost verbatim elsewhere.”
In an email to PR Daily, Exxon Mobil’s media relations manager, Alan T. Jeffers, said the company provided information about the announcement to the White House on several occasions both in person and through email. Jeffers said the administration decided to issue a congratulatory press release.
“We’ve done the same thing with previous administrations over the years when making a major announcement, as do most large U.S. companies,” Jeffers says. “It’s a common practice to provide details, including quotes from our management to enable development of such a press release.”
Legally speaking, accusations of plagiarism are perhaps overheated. Press releases are meant to be used, and no company or agency ever sued anyone for lifting a passage verbatim.
More damaging may be the closeness of the White House and a private company in a controversial sector. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously served as CEO of Exxon Mobil from 2006 to 2016, retiring from his position before assuming the Cabinet post, The Hill notes.
Even before “press releasegate” erupted on Twitter, reporters were questioning the appropriateness of the White House tipping its hat to a private company.
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) March 6, 2017
Ragan.com/PR Daily could not immediately reach the White House for comment.
Jeffers expressed puzzlement over the charges of plagiarism. “I find it difficult to understand how someone can plagiarize a press release when the singular goal of a press release is for people, usually media but also others, to cut and paste the language to get your message distributed as broadly as possible,” he says.
“It was clear in the White House press release that we provided them details of the announcement in advance. How otherwise would they have had the quotes from our chairman and details of the announcement?”
The White House used the statement to push a narrative of growing economic optimism that has seen a bull market run that rocketed the Dow Jones industrials index above the 21,000 level.
“The spirit of optimism sweeping the country is already boosting job growth, and it is only the beginning,” the White House stated.
The Post, however, cited an expert saying there was nothing new in Exxon Mobil’s announcement.
Trump also mentioned the company on Twitter, even touting it in a video.
There is an incredible spirit of optimism sweeping the country right now—we’re bringing back the JOBS! pic.twitter.com/BNSLvKiEVj
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2017
Buy American & hire American are the principles at the core of my agenda, which is: JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Thank you @exxonmobil.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
PR win for Exxon Mobil, or simply a gaffe by the administration? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.