President Trump’s attacking style of communications propelled him into office but lately has become less effective. Can organizations use an attack-based media strategy or is it now discredited? 

Attacking an opponent or an established incumbent can be a very effective media strategy. Just look at last week’s announcement by IHS Markit, a fairly obscure data services company. It released a withering attack on a proposal by a Financial Stability Board (FSB) task force about disclosure of climate-related financial risks.

It said the panel’s recommendations would “mislead investors and distort markets.” An HIS Markit official went even farther, saying the plan was “a radical departure from established financial reporting rules.”

Those are tough words from a part of the financial world that is usually placid. But in return for its aggressiveness, IHS Markit won prominent coverage in the media, led by articles on Reuters and Axios.

The IHS Markit report probably would have disappeared into the media mist with little notice had the firm taken the conventional approach and published its recommendations with less assertive language and without an attack on anyone.

The firm’s aggressive strategy paid off for two reasons. First, they picked a juicy target. Led by Michael Bloomberg, the FSB’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures is visible and influential, reporting ultimately to the G20. Its draft recommendations were released in December to much acclaim. Ultimately, its guidelines will provide a framework for disclosing climate related financial risks for all organizations with public debt or equity securities.

The other reason the attack was successful is that it was based on facts and analysis, not ideology. The report identified several critical issues that are relevant to investors and issuers, including standards of materiality and the use of confidential information. There was no ranting or name-calling.

IHS Markit also deserves credit for acknowledging that the research for the report was “supported” by several leading oil and gas companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and TOTAL. They’ve long opposed climate-related disclosures, and readers can judge for themselves whether their checkbooks colored the analysis.

Breaking through and getting noticed in today’s media environment requires a willingness to take risk, and that’s precisely what IHS Markit did.

Indeed, risk-taking in communications may become a necessity when the new president is dominating the news every day, leaving news organizations with little time to focus on anything else. And that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

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