The year 2016 will historically go down as one of the most challenging in PR for a myriad of reasons, all interestingly enough related to perception, image and communication on a global scale. The weighty importance assigned to managing PR client problems before they arise has become a paramount PR prerogative in a 24/7 digitally driven news cycle, aimed to constantly disrupt and pivot.
Some would argue that the artful dodging and changing stance by many in the world of media points to a crisis in PR, while those with actual experience in the industry view it as an opportunity worldwide to address how intelligent planning and strategy can actually anticipate and respond to potential problems before they arise.
A few salient examples are in order:
- Internet propagated breaking news
- Social media abuse by high profile/public figures
- S. election
The New York Times, long considered the Stateside newspaper of record, recently published a piece entitled How the Internet is Loosening our Grip on the Truth positing the fact that with the emerging significance and use of various internet sources, voices and perspectives, arises the challenge to cut through the noise to verify fact from fiction.
While portending to become a boon to democratic ideals, the media is more recently being utilized as an arsenal of weapons being deployed against its own best intentions and interests. In an open society with the right to free speech, ability to gather in public and a healthy respect for protest, every well-trained person in the media business knows a story when they see one.
There is an implicit code of conduct and journalistic standards that those not bound to adhere to them, take advantage by maligning the facts with ‘truthiness’—and often falsehoods. These become embraced and evolve through internet memes, various social platforms and ultimately back to word of mouth. It’s a self-perpetuating, subjective process that is now becoming the norm. In other words, objective criteria for validating a source, a truthful quote or set of facts can be thrown by the wayside to instead embrace spin, conspiracy theories, and inaccurate data.
In an era where everything is documented, from dated broadcast footage, private and professional emails, social media promises not kept and so on, there is no safe hiding place but the truth. It is important for PR professionals for both the sake of their own team and agencies—as well as client-side to embrace fact-finding, reporting, and expectation management upfront. It does not take long for a multitude of social media fires to come to mind, many stemming from the lack of truth.
On this topic, and considering the current media environment, comes a challenge that agencies strive to eliminate for clients and we as consumers face every day. The test to overcome, sift and sort through fake news and the sea of information that exists be it true or false, that swirls within our reach is something of an overwhelming thought.
According to a New York Times article, dedicated to understanding the threat of counterfeit material, the challenge of weeding out the “fake” news from what is real and credible has become a daily task. In other words, the longing for factual and relevant information has never been higher. As Arthur Sulzberger, the NYT deputy publisher emphasizes with the rise of reliable reporting particularly within the digital realm, “It shows people are willing to pay for great, original, deeply reported and expert journalism,” that will allow great journalism to thrive.” In a world of uncertain sources and facts, this is of paramount importance to not only clients and agencies but also the general public.
One set of important tools to deploy when entering a new PR client relationship, one that might pose significant challenges in terms of potential blow-ups given the client’s stature or standing, is to establish both operational grounds rules but also mutual goals to work toward. The time-tested motto of under promising and over delivering never goes out of style.
Many in the world of client relations can relate to a PR Daily piece that rightly identifies that agencies are expended to drive the ideation agenda, message control and bottom line—and are often compromised by a need to please—or worse coddle or mismanage a client to appease potential outbursts or stalled business. A desire to look and act busy does not equate to actually accomplishing anything. Targeting an end goal that is both attainable and realistic is imperative.
Having spent immersive hours in planning, mapping, discussions, re-positioning, branding, media training and strategizing news bureaus and proverbial next level roadmaps into the client future, it is important to take charge as the PR professional and agency team to tell the truth. With fact-based research, projections, monthly goals and results, a healthy campaign is born.
While there is no “best” agency, there is one that will prove to be a stronger match for clients needs. Show you are unique, do your homework, and a piece of advice that is quite obvious yet very understated, always sell results, not services.
It is best to always look forward, never back. Anticipate and understand the communication that needs to happen between PR client and agency and always take into account the advantages of solving problems well before they occur. Setting new standards of excellence should never fall by the wayside. As this recent MEDIUM article states, being entrepreneurial as a media leader in communication is a premise some may see as simply “the stars aligning.” However, this formula for success is rather a clear and concise method that can be taught. If one is willing to put in the time to go the extra mile for their clients, now that is the true test.