- Posted September 5, 2013 by
- People of Russian city of Tolyatti Surprised to Discover They Have Been Attacking Local Company
- Manufactured News: The Dirty Underside of Dark PR Campaign
- Leaked Black PR Emails Shed Light on Russian Media Wars
- Mazepin’s Holding Company Could Be Behind Attacks on ToAZ
- TOGLIATTI RESIDENTS ask Russia’s Prosecutor General, Presidential Envoy and Chairman of the Investigative Committee to look into situation around TOAZ
People of Toliatti Surprised to Discover They Have Been Attacking Local Company
According to the emails, the media relations company that orchestrated the smear campaign against ToAZ, created a series of completely bogus news pegs where citizens of Toliatti allegedly complain about ToAZ, complaints ranging from environmental concerns to hate graffiti. In reality, the PR team attempted to tarnish Togliattiazot’s reputation among the locals.
A leaked email of May 2, 2012, includes a detailed script for a staged protest rally against ToAZ and its supposedly deplorable environmental policies in Toliatti, specifying that the participants would be “brought to the site of the rally by buses” and would include “four tested “shouters” from Moscow” who would set the tone, “incite the crowds… then make a statement for the TV cameras and leave after 15 minutes.” The staged rally was just one more news peg in a series that began earlier that year, all of them attempting to represent ToAZ as an incorrigible violator of environmental laws.
One of the earliest strikes against ToAZ was an open letter in March 2012 signed by “fifty concerned Toliatti residents” about the management’s lax attitudes to environmental issues and to keeping the ToAZ facilities in good repair, and the allegedly dire state of environmental protections at the company. This was reinforced in April by “reports” of an environmental investigation in Toliatti by Green Patrol, a Russian environmental watchdog NGO. Leaked emails clearly point to the origin of the “open letter” as the dark PR artists, and detail the efforts to lend it legitimacy by providing the media with scanned signatures of the concerned citizens. Careful management of Green Patrol’s revelations evident in leaked emails and the discussion of payment for publication also cast serious doubt on the authenticity of environmental activists’ findings.
The staged grassroots campaign continued with local residents’ polls, interviews and letters to the editor about the environmental horrors perpetrated by the ToAZ management and core shareholders, much to the surprise of actual local residents, wiring in comments in one of the paid stories: “I find it amazing that locals in your interviews are never worried about any regional companies but Togliattiazot. In the meantime, some ten oil refineries do not seem to cause any discomfort.”
However, the dark PR artists and their client were unabashed, spraying hate graffiti against ToAZ around Toliatti and even setting up a billboard on a major highway just outside Moscow pretending to advertise ToAZ purported expertise in tax avoidance and capital flight, all at a significant expense to the client (over US$ 10,000 for a day or two of exposure, according to an invoice attached to an email of September 10, 2012 – the billboards had to be taken down, and certainly nobody really expected them to stay up for a full month). The PR crowd went over the top, leaving very little plausibility to their efforts. They attempted to correct this by going into crisis management mode and claiming that the graffiti were in fact the product of ToAZ sympathizers who used this trick to instigate support for the company and its key officers – an even more preposterous suggestion.
These attacks against a major employer and an important source of municipal revenue in Toliatti triggered a response by a number of citizen organizations in Toliatti who asked the Russian president, the Prosecutor General, and the Investigative Committee in an open letter to look into the source of these attacks. Countering the efforts of the opponents, the PR artists reprinted the letter in several local media outlets, adding a gay association as one of the letter’s signatories, in an attempt to play on the homophobia prevalent in traditional Russian society. The attempt apparently backfired, as most of the commentators on the reprinted open letter saw through the ploy.
The leaked emails show the wide gamut of tools and techniques used in the smear campaign. While most of the names and email addresses are obviously fake, they contain a lead to the organization behind the campaign against ToAZ, the ultimate client of the dark PR professionals: the Uralchem Group, a chemicals and fertilizers conglomerate established by Dmitry Mazepin, which holds a significant minority stake in ToAZ. An email of January 24, 2013 further confirmed what many previous emails and pre-paid stories hinted at, and what many Toliatti residents were already aware of as demonstrated by the comments on many of the paid articles, that the dark PR experts’ concern about a dead-link in a story that was supposed to lead the readers to the Uralchem corporate website.