Revolutionary Measures

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