It’s been a difficult month for journalists and PR’s alike as the news agenda was indefensibly challenged as the sharing of fake news hit the headlines.
Far be it that this was a one-off incident that could be swept under the carpet with the abrupt resignation of a non-descript recruit from some back office, this was serious. It was creating conversation and debate, and of any profession that should recognise the significance of that, it’s PR.
PR has long had a reputation for manipulating, ‘spinning’ and even inventing news stories in order to secure coverage and encourage positive responses from consumers, so we have to question what has changed and why are people so concerned?
The truth is that people want to trust the news sources that they have long believed to be credible. They want to know that a journalist – or PR – has done their research and has pulled together a balanced article that will allow them to form their own opinions based on fact – not fiction.
The struggle is that we live in a culture whereby people want breaking news. Invariably with this mistakes will happen – but fake news isn’t just about mistakes, it is absolutely about the sharing of content that the journalist, PR or brand knows is false.
It’s lying and often in a bid to manipulate a given response which may have further implications to a wider campaign.
What I have found most troubling is that the term ‘fake news’ is now widely used, referenced and understood. This is really worrying. When we work with clients the first rule is don’t lie, which is swiftly followed by the second and third; don’t suggest that we lie and don’t manipulate the truth.
If you can’t find an angle to a story then the likelihood is that you don’t have one to share.
People are undoubtedly going to become increasingly cynical of news and you can’t really blame them. They are going to question what they should believe and with such an array of sources to collate information from – positive, negative, neutral and all that is in between – it does become mind boggling.
What we as an industry have to do is to continue to champion good practice. Spin is not a positive term as far as I’m concerned and I have an ongoing joke with a client who uses the insinuation purely to wind me up!
If PR is to be considered a specialism and the profession I certainly believe it to be, then it is our job to showcase why that is the case. We manage the reputations of brands and businesses, so we must be able to change the perception of an industry that without too much trouble is going to get pulled into the gutter.
There are agencies that will do anything for coverage – let’s be honest, we all know that’s the case – but we need to take a stand and to work harder to create good quality stories that people will read and feel informed, enlightened and engaged by.
All we can do is take the facts that our clients give us, but that’s another thing. Work with brands that you trust. It’s just as important that we can be sure of the facts that we are then sharing with a journalist, as it is that the journalist takes that story and prints it or posts it online to thousands of readers with the knowledge it was sent in good faith.
Choosing where you share news is of course another thing. If a PR is going to work with publications or sites that have been consistently discredited, then you can’t expect that they will share the content that you have given them without adding their own inflection to the piece.
We are surrounded by content at every turn; from our TV or radios when we get up, to newspapers and our phones or iPads and that’s even before we get to work. What we should do as individuals is to remember that despite some misguided beliefs, not everything you read in the news is the truth.
Most brands are aspiring for the holy grail of results – brand loyalty and you simply will not get that if you lie. It’s a pretty simple concept really, if you want lasting love, don’t fake it!