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Russia! Magazine Releases Illustrated Guide to Dark PR

Organizing protests against false claims of environmental damage, lawsuits on spurious grounds, counterproductive support by the LGBT community are just some of the methods of "softening up" the opposition covered in an illustrated "handbook" on dark PR published by Russia! magazine, an independent quarterly publication. The 12-page guide has been sent to major business media worldwide and has been posted online.

The purpose of the guide is to put a spotlight on dark PR, which had found wide use in Russia as a tool in the arsenal of corporate raiders: dark PR helps to bring pressure to bear on business owners, making them more willing to negotiate and/or reduce the price.

Russia! magazine has created its Dark PR Guide using examples from a recent high-profile scandal notable for use of dark PR: communications among dark PR professionals hired to tarnish TogliattiAzot (TOAZ), one the world's largest producers of ammonia, was posted online by Russian members of the Anonymous hacktivists. The leaked email exchange contains unique insights into organization of dark PR campaigns, exposing all the gory details – from techniques used to methods for dealing with the media to achieve wide distribution of the "news."

According to the guide, the typical dark PR campaign in Russian includes insinuations that the target company is spending money indiscriminately, e.g. on buying football clubs and historic hotels in Western Europe: this shows both a lack of patriotism (a serious transgression these days) and puts core shareholders in a bad light as those responsible for capital flight and wannabe oligarchs. These claims were used in the campaign against TOAZ.

Other dark PR devices against TOAZ included false accusations of causing harm to the environment, allegations of tax evasion, protest meetings against core shareholders and senior management, attempts to destroy their personal reputation, claims of quarrels and marital strife. All these stages in the campaign were designed and orchestrated from Moscow, and media running these stories received generous compensation. The leaked email exchange revealed several tiers in the Russian media: from some that would not touch dubious reports or attacks on character under any circumstances to those that would reprint such stories if previously published elsewhere to the most flexible of all, that would become the original source of a fictitious story, for the right price.

Dark PR has become such a common, widely used business practice in Russia, that those who do business in this country would probably find this illustrated guide very handy. To fight dark PR, one would have to identify those behind the attacks, and, if there is adequate proof, take them to court. "Court action is in its own right a much better, more effective news hook than any paid stories can ever aspire to be," the guide says.

A closer look at the email exchange posted online reveals Uralchem – a chemicals and fertilizers company led by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Mazepin – as a plausible client which ordered a campaign against TOAZ. The company attacking TOAZ was also involved in whitewashing the reputation of Uralchem and its management. In addition, the dark PR agency also distributed press releases on behalf of Eurotoaz Ltd., an offshore company which denied any association with Mazepin. The leaked emails have provided a rare insight into the inner workings of dark PR in Russia.