Revolutionary Measures

6 differences between PR and marketing

After one of my previous posts on what public relations can (and can’t do), Ann Hawkins of Drive suggested exploring what the differences are between PR and marketing, leading to this article. To begin with, it is important to stress that PR is a marketing discipline, alongside the likes of advertising, direct mail, brochures and digital. So there is inevitably overlap.

As Ann rightly points out this overlap has increased over the last few years, as marketing disciplines have coalesced, but there are still differences between PR and other areas.

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Here are what I think the six main ones are:

1.PR is less guaranteed
Any marketing campaign can fail, with even the biggest of advertising campaigns coming a cropper. This could be down to poor planning, inadequate targeting or simply not having a strong enough creative idea. However, even the most unsuccessful marketing campaign will have a very visible outputs, whether that is a website, a piece of direct mail, or an enormously expensive TV ad. The outputs of PR appear much less substantial – a press release, a conversation with a journalist or influencer, or an email to a stakeholder. So if the campaign fails there is much less to show for it. You don’t have the 10 foot advertising poster to impress the CEO with. PR is much more of an iceberg – there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get a campaign up and running, and much less guarantee that it will succeed. PR is not just media relations, but I’ve been in the position of having a journalist write a piece which was dropped from a national newspaper as the news agenda changed and there simply wasn’t space.

2. PR is (or used to be) less measurable
Historically, one major difference between PR and marketing was that most marketing campaigns could easily be measured, whether in terms of leads, sales or other outcomes, unlike PR. This is one area where PR has changed dramatically over the last few years. When I started in PR 25 years ago, measurement was calculated on the physical coverage you received, using Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). Full page article? Find out how much buying the same ad space would cost, multiply it by three (as PR is much more credible than an ad), and you have an impressive figure that shows ROI.

Thankfully, things have moved on, with much greater professionalism. Digital technology enables specific tracking of where people go to after reading an online article for example, and it is now much easier to measure outcomes, not just outputs.

3. PR often involves a gatekeeper
Marketing campaigns normally directly target the audience they are trying to influence. For example, you want people to watch an ad and buy your washing powder or click to sign up to join a service online. In contrast PR is more likely to reach the audience indirectly, through a gatekeeper. This could be journalists/publications in the case of media relations, or other stakeholders such as analysts, consultants or other influencers. So, you need to create a message that not only resonates with the final audience, but also convinces the gatekeeper as well.

4. Marketing is trying to drive direct revenue
According to a post on a PR company’s website, marketing is always linked to revenue goals, while PR is about reputation. To be honest, I’d only partially agree. Some PR is about boosting your reputation, but it has always been about driving leads as well. For example, if you launch a new product press coverage is a crucial part of not just creating awareness but getting people into the sales funnel. However, it is true to say that marketing campaigns tend to be more linked to sales goals, whereas PR can be much wider in its results and targets.

5. PR is more credible
To me, this remains the most important difference between marketing and PR. Even (or especially) in an age of fake news and widespread disinformation, the outputs of PR, such as media coverage are seen as more credible than an advert. This is because it has passed through a gatekeeper meaning it has been verified by a hopefully independent third party before reaching its audience. Yes, there have been plenty of examples of PR being used to support dubious causes or campaigns (take the work of Bell Pottinger in South Africa), but those that clearly cross an ethical line or have no basis in fact are normally discovered and called out. In the case of Bell Pottinger, the resulting scandal brought the whole company down.

6. PR isn’t always visible
One of the key aims of public relations is managing reputation. While this can be a relatively straightforward job of aiming to build a positive profile with key audiences, it also covers crisis management, mitigating (or even avoiding altogether) negative stories. I appreciate that this sounds dubious, and I’m not advocating PR being used to keep bad stuff out of the media. However, we live in a more and more complex world, where it is more common for things to go wrong in some way. Having a crisis management PR strategy is therefore crucial if brands are to react to minimise any reputational damage. That’s something that you can’t really do with other marketing disciplines, although the likes of VW and Facebook have tried, taking out full page adverts explaining how sorry they are for various corporate misdemeanours.

I’m conscious that while I set out to outline clear differences between PR and marketing I’ve ended up with a fair few caveats that show that different disciplines are getting closer in many areas. That’s actually a positive for PR, as it shows how its reach is spreading, not just in marketing but other areas (such as internal communications) and demonstrates its business value. No marketing campaign (or company) can afford to neglect PR, whatever its overall objectives.

April 3, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Huawei – communicating innocence?

For this week’s blog it was a hard choice between focusing on what the rise of The Independent Group means to political PR, and how Chinese communications equipment giant Huawei is meeting its own communications and PR challenges. Given British politics is likely to have changed over the next week, and we’re currently in the middle of telecoms industry shindig Mobile World Congress (MWC), I’ll go for the Huawei option.

In many ways Huawei is a victim of its own success – from a brand that nobody knew how to pronounce a year ago, it has rocketed into the public consciousness, although not for all the right reasons. Allegations of potential backdoors in its communications kit that could allow the Chinese state to spy on data have led Donald Trump to call for it to be banned as a worldwide supplier to future 5G networks (Australia and New Zealand have obliged). At the same time its CFO has been arrested in Canada at the behest of the US, being accused of sanctions busting, and an employee arrested in Poland for alleged industrial espionage.

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And how has it responded? Essentially it has come out swinging, in a way that is either very confident, very arrogant or a combination of both. At MWC it has signalled that it wants to break the Apple/Samsung high end smartphone duopoly by launching one of the world’s first foldable phones, the Huawei Mate X, just a week after its Korean rival announced its own model.

It has also used MWC to go on the front foot and completely deny that there are or ever will be backdoors in its products, with its chairman Guo Ping stressing, “We don’t do bad things” and describing US accusations of security issues as lacking any evidence. Given the importance of 5G to a whole range of innovations, such as the Internet of Things, driverless cars, and being able to download a whole film in 6 seconds, questions about security are valid, whoever is providing the kit. But by going on the front foot and calling for industry solidarity, while having a pop at Trump, Huawei seems to feel confident that it can win doubters round.

And this isn’t the total of its comms strategy – there’s been a huge rise in glossy print advertising emphasising its trustworthiness (following a recent Facebook tactic), and it has been touting its relationship with Britain’s communications security agency, GCHQ as a model to follow. Under a partnership, GCHQ has been testing Huawei’s technology and will report back on any issues it finds. However, this has been undermined by a hardening of rhetoric, with GCHQ head, Jeremy Fleming, stressing the need to understand the opportunities and threats that China’s technology advances provide.

From a market position it is easy to worry about Huawei, as it has grown rapidly to a position of power in a key global industry as it is about to adopt new technology. Unlike other Chinese companies such as JD, Tencent and Alibaba which are focused on their domestic markets and developing companies, Huawei is unashamedly looking to lead on a worldwide scale. Not for nothing does its name translate as “Chinese Achievement”. And at time when we’re getting more conscious of our privacy, both individuals and governments are much more focused on who has access to our data. Despite its communications so far, Huawei hasn’t convinced security experts or even the general public of its benign intentions – it is difficult to prove a negative in an age of conspiracies and social media. My advice? Focus on openness and innovation, and the benefits of 5G, build relationships with the right experts and invest locally to get governments on side. And if you can sort out Brexit, you can spy on my communications all you like………….

February 27, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nick Clegg – the worst job in PR?

There are lots of jobs in public relations that could best be described as ‘challenging’ – and at worst be considered nightmares to avoid at all costs. Press secretary to Donald Trump or Elon Musk’s PR handler both spring to mind. However, these revolve around trying to control a wayward individual known for having their own communications style. In these cases the PR issues come with the territory as they are part of the brand.

So what are the worst jobs in PR when you take the figurehead out of the equation? I’d say that at the moment they revolve around Brexit and Facebook. I won’t go into Theresa May’s communications strategy as I’m not sure there is one beyond repeating the same stock phrases over and over again and hoping that the world will change.

Instead I’m going to focus this post on the challenges facing Facebook’s PR team, and in particular Sir Nick Clegg, the company’s recently appointed head of global affairs. First, a quick recap of the issues in his intray:

  • The Cambridge Analytica case, where data was illegally collected and used to target Facebook users
  • Failure to regulate fake news or Russian interference in the US election
  • Allowing posts that promoted genocide against the Rohinga minority in Myanmar
  • Automatically recommending content involving self-harm to vulnerable teens on Instagram
  • Not paying its fair share of tax

I’m probably missing a few – suffice it to say that in PR Moment’s annual review of 2018’s PR disasters, Facebook was villain of the month on three separate occasions, well ahead of any other business.

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What hasn’t helped has been its ‘solution’, which seems to amount to taking out a lot of adverts and whingeing a bit about it being so unfair (being 15 the company is going through a sulky teenager phase).

Oh, and hiring Nick Clegg. Obviously Clegg had a background in public affairs before he entered politics, so the combination of his experience seems like a good fit. But since he joined little has really changed. There’s still a refusal to engage with politicians – Mark Zuckerberg has dodged requests to appear in front of politicians, apart from one hearing of the US Congress. And all the time revenues have been increasing, adding fuel to the allegations that the company puts profits above doing the right thing.

Clegg’s job is not one I’d relish as clearly Facebook needs to undergo a root and branch reform to make it more open and accountable. And the clock is ticking – murmurs of breaking the company up in some way are growing, with splitting the different services it offers (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) into separate entities, providing what looks like an easy solution to lawmakers.

I’ve previously outlined what I think Facebook needs to do, along with other tech companies, to turn around its reputation, focusing on openness, confessing to past wrong doing, investing and matching words with deeds. Essentially Facebook needs to engage and that means communicating in a more human way – for its sake let’s hope that Nick Clegg is given the space and resources to deliver real change, rather than propping up the status quo.

February 6, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

4 ways that tech giants can turn their image around in 2019

Its fair to say that tech giants had a shocker PR-wise in 2018. Vilified for how they treat consumer data, spread malicious/fake news, fail to protect privacy, low tax payments and underhand PR methods (as in the case of Facebook hiring a firm to spread dirt on George Soros), they’ve so far come up with a poor defence. In fact, senior management has either ducked out of governmental hearings or spouted platitudes that placated no-one.

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And the early indications are that 2019 will be equally challenging for the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, as they are publicly attacked on multiple fronts. Countries such as the UK and France are proposing ‘tech taxes’ to claw back money, while competition authorities are taking a keen interest in the idea that these organisations have too much power and need to have their wings clipped. It seems a long time ago that they were hailed as innovators changing the world by connecting people in new ways and providing easy access to untold information and opportunities.

So, what should the tech giants New Year PR resolutions be? Here are four to start with:

1.Confess
One of the biggest issues facing Facebook et al is that they are taking an overly legalistic approach to dealing with their problems. Essentially, they are denying everything with the aim of protecting themselves from potentially eye-watering fines. As the growing number of legal cases show, this isn’t working as the public mood has very much turned against them. It isn’t an easy step, but they have to change their attitude, confess to past misdemeanours (even if inadvertent) and wipe the slate clean. Think Lance Armstrong on Oprah, but with Mark Zuckerberg replacing the drug-taking cyclist.

2.Match words with deeds
We’ve all seen the adverts from social networks telling us that they are committed to protecting our privacy and online lives. They need to go further, and change how they operate, such as making default privacy settings much tighter and being clearer on the code of conduct that they will follow, with proper independent oversight.

3.Be more open
Ironically for organisations that rely on people being free and open with their most personal data, Google, Facebook and Amazon are extremely secretive in many areas. Clearly, no one expects them to give away commercial advantage, but they need to show how they operate to satisfy regulators, consumers and current and potential employees. By demonstrating that openness they will show they’ve not got a secret agenda and that Mark Zuckerberg is not a lizard.

4.Invest
The rise of Google and Facebook has hoovered up huge amounts of advertising spend, particularly affecting local and regional newspapers. Alongside the reports of cats stuck up trees, these provide a powerful method of supporting local democracy, holding elected councils to account. Investigating vested interests costs money, and national newspapers have also seen budgets slashed, despite the importance of exposing malfeasance. At the same time, Amazon has led an ecommerce boom that has decimated the high street, again hitting communities across the UK. While there’s no legal obligation to pay for these problems, it is time for tech giants to dip into their pockets. Google already funds some media initiatives and Facebook invests in local journalism, but they all need to go further if this is to redress the balance. Paying a fair share of their tax bill would also help.

Clearly not every tech company is in the same position as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Uber, but the current ‘techlash’ threatens the entire industry. This isn’t just about perception or slowing user growth – share prices have fallen as nervous investors cash out, while many talented employees are looking elsewhere for their careers. 2019 promises to be a watershed year for tech’s public image – lucky that Facebook has got Nick Clegg on board to turn it all around……….

January 9, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Taking a stand – and the risks to brand reputation

Brands today face significant challenges when it comes to marketing themselves. Competition is growing, particularly from smaller, nimbler and often cooler players. We also live in an increasingly polarised world, where consumers demand that the brands they engage with stand for something. That’s relatively easy for quirky startups – the trouble for established multinationals is that ‘something’ varies radically between different groups and cuts across their existing customer demographics.

The current debate over Nike’s latest marketing campaign demonstrates this perfectly. It has recruited American footballer Colin Kaepernick to narrate its new ad, which features athletes from a range of backgrounds who have overcome adversity to achieve success. The slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, sums up Kaepernick’s role as leader of the movement to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against police violence.

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Burning rubber
Predictably, the campaign has drawn ire from both sides. Photos and videos of people burning their Nike shoes and clothes went viral on social media, and the Nike stock price initially dropped. Donald Trump complained on Twitter. The body responsible for buying uniforms for the Mississippi police force announced that it would now longer purchase Nike products. At the same time, commentators have complained that Nike is simply hijacking a key issue to essentially sell more trainers. And given their previous poor record on issues such as ethical sourcing, child labour and more recently complaints of a culture of sexual harassment, people may well have a point.

Nevertheless, Nike clearly feels that its core buyers are going to respond positively to its position. In a similar vein, the CEO of Levi’s announced a partnership with gun violence prevention groups, causing the National Rifle Association to complain about “corporate virtue-signalling.” On this side of the Atlantic, Lush had to drop a campaign focused on undercover police who infiltrated activist groups to spy on their members.

So how can brands make sure that taking a stand doesn’t alienate the people they want to appeal to? Essentially it comes down to answering four key questions:

1.Does it fit with your brand values?
One of the reasons Lush received so many complaints was that its campaign didn’t fit with its brand values. Yes, it was seen as alternative and studenty, but being seen to attack the police was a step too far. Companies need to live their brand values – but not over-extend them in pursuit of cheap headlines, as it will damage their reputation.

2. Does it fit with your target audience?
For Nike, its core audience is overwhelming young, urban and involved. Therefore, while it might lose some sales (will Donald Trump switch to Yeezys?), they are clearly confident that the positive impact outweighs the negative. In the same way, UK stationery chain Paperchase pulled promotions from the Daily Mail after its customers complained about the difference between the paper’s editorial stance and their own views. So start with demographics and listening to your customers – after all, there’s a world of social media to help you hear their voice.

3. Are you seen as genuine?
For me, this is where Nike falls down, though it isn’t as bad as Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner advert. I simply can’t see them as genuinely believing in the issues raised – and their own record on worker’s rights undermines their case for promoting fairness. Obviously this is an issue for any major corporation as most have skeletons in their closet of some sort. However, in contrast, Levi’s campaign on gun control looks much more genuine as their CEO is an ex-US army captain who has spoken out on the issue before.

4. Is it cohesive?
If you take a stand, it has to run across your business. You can’t complain about police brutality and then treat your own employees poorly, for example. That’s one of the reasons that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon are currently in trouble. They talk about an innovative future based on technology and openness, and then create labyrinthine corporate structures to minimise the tax they pay and (in the case of Amazon) face accusations of sweatshop conditions for their warehouse staff. In today’s world failing to live your brand will be quickly discovered and publicised.

We’re in a position where more and more brands are being forced to make a choice – Trump or Democrat, Leave or Remain

? To do this successfully is a balancing act – but starting from genuine brand values built on trust with your audience is a key starting point.

 

September 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brand safety in the age of Trump

Marketers are all aware of the impact of social media on brand reputation. Issues can quickly go viral as consumers share complaints on Facebook and Twitter – and with the press continually monitoring for social stories, before you know it you are on the BBC News or the front page of a newspaper website.

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However, what has changed in the last twelve months or so has been the impact of celebrities, including Donald Trump, on brand safety. A tweet from the US President complaining about a company can damage reputation, and even survival. Take the case of Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE. Convicted of breaching US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, the company first looked doomed to go out of business when it was banned from buying US components, and was then resurrected through a supportive tweet from Trump.

All a bit Thameslink
It isn’t just Trump – a tweet from author Eric Van Lustbader about food poisoning at a branch of US restaurant chain Chipotle (already reeling from an e.coli outbreak), caused its stock to fall. And in the UK, rail company Thameslink was threatened with legal action from Poundland for comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’. The retailer added that it if it ever fell short on customer service, they’d describe themselves as ‘a bit Thameslink’.

What the Poundland experience shows is that brands are now fighting back against what they see as unfair attacks. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Roseanne Barr case, where the TV star blamed sleeping pill Ambien for her racist tweets. Cue its maker Sanofi to respond (brilliantly) “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Whereas in the past they may have ignored social media mentions or only responded weeks later, brands are now wising up to the protecting their online reputation. However, I think they need to balance speed with the following three factors:

1.Be polite and engaging
It would have been very easy for multibillion dollar drug company Sanofi to respond to Roseanne with a dry legal statement or to launch an attack of its own. Instead, it balanced politeness with cutting wit, simultaneously undermining her point and demonstrating its good corporate citizenship.

2.Don’t get personal
When a celebrity, particularly one with millions of followers, tweets about you it is easy for things to descend into a personal slanging match that actually further damages your brand. Try and take the moral high ground, state the facts and think before you tweet. After all, there are likely to be brand advocates who will defend you aggressively, letting you focus on your key messages.

3.Take a joke
Brand safety isn’t about jumping on every negative, throwaway mention of your company and overreacting/threatening legal action. Decide what is important, what can be handled by a simple denial, and where it makes more sense for your brand to play along and show that you have a sense of humour.

The past few weeks have shown that marketers are now taking positive steps to protect brand reputation online – they clearly have the monitoring systems in place to intervene early, but they need to make sure they don’t become too corporate if they are to actually enhance their reputations rather than adding to online damage through ill-thought out responses.

June 6, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brand safety on the wild internet

The internet has always had contradictory roots. The infrastructure may have begun as a DARPA-funded project to create a network with no single point of failure, but its first major users were counter-culture Californians who launched bulletin boards on the back of it. And the World Wide Web itself was created by Tim Berners-Lee when working at CERN, essentially to allow different researchers, with different IT systems to share information seamlessly.

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This contradiction is still present in the titans that currently dominate the online world. The likes of Facebook and Google may try to publicly position themselves as entrepreneurial start-ups with more in common with the California hippies when talking to users, but in fact they are now enormous corporations with correspondingly huge power.

As we’ve seen with the scandals surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, internal systems and data protection haven’t grown as fast as the need for control of user data. And this follows concerns about adverts being run next to unsuitable content on the likes of YouTube, leading to brands such as Under Armour pulling their ads.

The issue is one of brand safety – companies want to protect their reputation as well as reach the right audiences. In an always-on world with ever more complex (and opaque) ad-buying systems and increasing personalisation being sure your messages are reaching the right audiences through the right channels is vital. This isn’t just applicable to the internet – I’ve recently seen lots of adverts for household cleaning products on kids TV channels, although you can argue they are more targeted at parents watching alongside their offspring.

The latest challenge to the big internet companies goes beyond poor ad positioning though – focusing instead on unauthorised use of a brand to essentially front a scam. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and consumer finance guru, is suing Facebook for running adverts that use his image to market high risk or fraudulent services, implying that he has endorsed them. Facebook counters that as soon as such adverts are reported, they remove them, only for them to pop up again with slight changes.

Given Lewis’ whole reputation is built on delivering honest consumer advice to save people money, it is no surprise either that he’s been targeted by scammers or that he is going to court to protect his brand image. As he says, he doesn’t do adverts, and that with their image recognition technology Facebook should be able to block anyone trying to use his photo, before it goes live. Lewis isn’t alone in having his details hijacked – we’ve all had emails and calls allegedly from Microsoft, BT or our bank trying to get us to handover control of our PC or account details. But the difference is that no third party is making money out of these activities – unlike in the case of Facebook.

By coming out against Facebook so publicly, and by promising to donate any damages to charity, Lewis is adding to the concerns around Facebook and its business model of publish first, remove later if necessary. It’s a great PR strategy on his part – a classic David vs Goliath move. I’m sure it is also being closely watched by other celebrities and organisations worried about their brand safety online.

All of the current concerns around big tech are part of a wider worry – from consumers to governments and advertisers themselves, people are waking up to the fact that their data is out of their control, and that companies are making large amounts of money from it. I think that 2018 is going to be a watershed year for the online giants – it is time for them to change how they market themselves and become more humble if they want to rebuild and retain our trust. The question is, can they win us back?

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why leaving social media is bad for JD Wetherspoon

Received marketing, and indeed business, wisdom is that the future is digital. And that has lead to brands stampeding onto social media and devoting increasing amounts of time and money to engaging with their audiences there.

So the news that pub chain JD Wetherspoon is quitting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram seems to fly in the face of good marketing practice. Chairman Tim Martin has been vague on the reasons why it is leaving, citing the amount of time it is taking (as well as head office, its 900 pubs all have their own accounts), the addictive nature of social media, misuse of personal data and the trolling of MPs and public figures on social media.

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But reading between the lines it is more about a lack of engagement and impact from its strategy. It has 44,000 followers on Twitter, over 100,000 on Facebook and more than 6,000 on Instagram – a relatively low number for such an enormous, UK-wide organisation. It hadn’t been that active – the announcement that it was leaving Twitter was its first message in April for example, and most Facebook content was just reposted from Twitter.

However, not doing something well and not doing it at all are two separate things and I believe that the main reason that Wetherspoon’s is stopping social media is that isn’t really embracing the power of the platforms. It is true that most consumers are unlikely to be avid followers of their local branch of a chain pub – after all you’d not interact that much with your local supermarket, but they’ve not used it to create a buzz about local events or what they are doing. Therefore, it is logical to stop, rather than just going through the motions – and reap the news headlines and profile that the decision creates.

However, done well social media can deliver big results – even for 100% offline businesses like Wetherspoons. Here are three of the biggest:

1. Create a community
Why do people go to pubs? It is all about socialising, meeting people and enjoying yourself. After all, if you just want to drink it is cheaper to do it at home. Successful local pubs are all about creating a community – it doesn’t have to be on the level of Cheers, where ‘everybody knows your name’, but it is about interacting. Social media does the same thing in the online world – so not being present means you are not nurturing your punters when they aren’t in the pub.

2. Keep the influencers informed
Wetherspoon says that news will still be available via its website, but in today’s environment most journalists and influencers get their news through social media. They raise questions and start debates, and Wetherspoon won’t be there to take part in them. No doubt its PR people will be there lurking, but that is not the same – and failing to have an active account doesn’t look good to those journos who live their lives on social media.

3. People don’t want to change channel for customer service
Consumers want to interact with a brand on the channel that is most convenient to them at that time. And that is quite often social media – they don’t want to switch to calling or emailing customer services, as Wetherspoon now recommends they do. So therefore complaints will go unanswered, visible only to other consumers, without Wetherspoon getting involved. This impacts brand reputation, particularly of individual pubs, and further damages engagement.

I don’t know how much time and money Wetherspoon was spending on social media, and it could well be that it isn’t getting the return it is looking for. But shooting the messenger, rather than changing the message isn’t a long term strategy to compete – as Wetherspoon may well find to its cost.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook, electoral manipulation and Cambridge Analytica

It’s a well-known fact that on ‘free’ social media sites, users are actually paying with their data, allowing them to be targeted with advertising that should match their preferences, and therefore be of interest. But the current revelations around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook show that the cost is potentially much greater than this, with personal data allegedly being used to microtarget and manipulate perceptions, and therefore heavily influence elections.

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While allegations into Cambridge Analytica’s role in the 2016 US election and Brexit referendum have been made for some time, with the company subject to multiple investigations, including the Mueller probe, what has brought it into the headlines more recently has been good, old-fashioned undercover reporting from Channel 4 News. It sent a reporter posing as a Sri Lankan businessman to find out how CA could help him influence a local election – and the results were not pretty. Even allowing for the bluster involved in pitching to a potentially lucrative client, CA’s now suspended boss Alexander Nix’s claims that he could use entrapment and bribery to bring down political opponents as well as microtargeting demonstrate a complete contempt for ethics.

The fall-out has been rapid. As a privately held company bankrolled in part by conservative hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, CA has not suffered financially – but Facebook saw its company valuation drop by over $40 billion in the last two days, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg summoned to appear at a parliamentary committee to explain how the data of 50 million Facebook members was allegedly used (and retained) by Cambridge Analytica. At the same time the #DeleteFacebook hashtag on Twitter has been trending around the world.

Use of propaganda and half-truths to swing elections and mobilise voters is obviously nothing new, but the combination of the intimate position of social media in our lives and advances in psychological targeting mean that the majority of people are simply not equipped to understand when they are being manipulated through the likes of Facebook. And clearly the controls on the data that developers can harvest, access (and retain) are too lax to protect people.

So, I think two things need to happen. Facebook needs to put in tighter controls and make it obvious what data people are giving away when they use the service, download apps or take surveys. But more importantly for the political – and ethical – health of the population, everyone needs to be better educated about social media and online behaviour. Most of us have learnt how to pick out bias in newspapers, on TV and in the traditional media, but the personalised capabilities and echo chamber mentality of social media is something that has been thrust upon us without warning or time to adapt.

In the same way that people need to be taught to recognise fake news, they need to understand when they are being manipulated online. This should start in schools and encompass the whole population – if Mark Zuckerberg is smart he’ll attend the parliamentary committee, show that Facebook is changing and announce a global education programme on how to protect yourself on the network. Otherwise, the Cambridge Analytica story has the potential to significantly damage Facebook, hit revenues and reduce user numbers. The ball is in his court.

 

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PR and the frontline of the information war

Like a lot of relatively new terms, fake news has a long history. Claiming lies as the truth goes all the way back to ancient times, with propaganda and false claims used to justify activities and to hold onto power. Take the commonly held view we have of the ‘barbarian’ Celtic tribes that the Romans conquered, which ignores their culture and achievements, or the Shakespearian propaganda about the poor governance of Richard III.

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Frequently fake news is too polite a term for downright lies – and in many cases is used to complain about a point of view that while valid, you simply don’t agree with. On a more serious level, deliberate misinformation designed to sway public opinion is on the increase, thanks to the spread of social media and the fact that it cleverly backs up our own beliefs and prejudices.

Whatever the scale of Russian meddling in the US presidential election, it is not the first time the Kremlin has tried to disrupt democracy – but the combination of a receptive, partisan audience and easy access to millions of people makes it the most successful. And it isn’t likely to stop anytime soon – as CIA director Mike Pompeo recently pointed out he expects further interference in this year’s midterm elections.

Combating disinformation and fake news isn’t easy, but to be effective the solution has to involve everyone – from governments to individuals.

1.Governments
Many Western governments have been slow to realise the danger of fake news, and therefore haven’t acted to root it out. The US election has changed that, and governments are increasingly setting up dedicated teams to track and counter propaganda and other fake news. The UK Cabinet Office is creating a new unit to respond rapidly to fake news, whether from Russians or from other sources looking to warp public discourse.

2. Platforms
There’s an ongoing debate about social media and tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and the responsibility they should take for identifying and removing fake news. They claim they are platforms, not publishers, but are under increasing pressure to police their users’ content more effectively. They need to step up and be prepared to out fake news – otherwise they are likely to face greater regulation and/or advertiser boycotts.

3. The PR industry
Communications professionals need to play their part as well. There is a line between spin and fake news, and it is up to us not to cross it and to make sure we are behaving ethically and advising clients accordingly. The Bell Pottinger case demonstrates that not only are there reputational risks to failing to follow good practice, but there are financial consequences as well. We need to think through the consequences of our actions as members of society, rather than simply pumping out messages to the world, without reflecting on their impact.

4. The public
It often feels that we live in an increasingly polarised world, with social media making it easy to screen out views we don’t agree with. At the same time we’re bombarded with information, and very often don’t take the time to review and check it before retweeting it or sharing on Facebook. As someone who studied history I know how important it is to understand the source of a piece of information and therefore the bias and particular message it contains. Everyone needs to do this – but at the same time they need to open themselves up to having a rational debate. Ignoring or trying to ban other (legal) points of view just reinforces prejudices – as the saying goes “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

With increasing military activity and sabre rattling in areas such as North Korea, fake news can seem relatively low level and harmless. But it is the frontline of an information war – and it is up to all of us to combat it if we are to move forward as a coherent, democratic society.

Image By United States Navy – Naval Education and Training Command website at http://www.netc.navy.mil/netc/Commands/NETCcenters.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56331324

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments