Posts Tagged 'fake news'

Public Relations: Back to the Future? Harold Burson Advocacy Or Propaganda Mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two recent events bring the past, present and future of public relations into clear focus. Last week, Harold Burson, a pillar of PR as a co-founder of agency giant Burson-Marsteller and a founder of modern, ethical PR practice, died at age 98. 

Contemporaneously, making news again were the antics of a dubious crop of firms popping up, operating under the equally offensive moniker of “black PR,” specializing in propaganda, manipulation, and mass production of fake news. Remember Bell-Pottinger?

In case you don’t, Buzzfeed offers comprehensive article below that looks at Bell-Pottinger and now a growing number of firms of its ilk; it’s worth a read. For now, suffice to recall Bell-Pottinger is the infamous—now defunct—London-based “PR” firm whose work in South Africa was decried for intentionally stoking racial divisions to benefit a wealthy client. After world-wide condemnation, and the firm’s subsequent demise, unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the story for bad PR on a global scale. Since then, Russia and countries in Asia have come under attack for stoking divisions and generating mass propaganda known as fake news. And many of these firms are marketing themselves under the mantle of “PR.”

These unethical firms know few if any boundaries and are driven only by profit. Their proliferation is a real threat to the kind of ethical public relations advocated by Harold Burson and today’s PR professionals. Therefore, it’s in our interest to make sure people understand the quite fundamental differences that govern these separate industries. We’ve written much about these kinds of differences in our introduction and previous posts about lobbying and PR.

The emergence of this new, high-tech, low-brow form of propaganda should be on the radar of the public and every legitimate public relations practitioner. Buzzfeed’s story below is ahead of trend. Here’s what you need to know now about disinformation for hire:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/disinformation-for-hire-black-pr-firms

Changing the Narrative–How to Combat Fake News

At any point, an organization can find itself in the crosshairs of rumor, falsehoods, speculation and innuendo. The business mag Fast Company and others have identified combating intentional misinformation and “fake news” as a growing concern for companies and individuals. Jeff Bezos, Joel Osteen and even trusted and popular former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have had to combat one or a combination of all the above. While these situations usually fall short of a crisis, if left to fester, any one could grow into a full-fledged crisis. It’s often the PR pro’s job–albeit rarely acting alone–to mitigate the situation and change the narrative. So what to do? Here’s some points we’ve learned to follow:

Review the facts. By this time, any number of people have likely weighed in with an opinion on the assumptions, presumptions and possibly ill intents that have taken ahold. Don’t be afraid to counter these with facts.

Stay on the offensive. Don’t let someone else’s alternative facts become your message points or organizational narrative. Organizations needn’t feel responsibility to address widespread speculation, but they should step forward to take control of the narrative with their own clear message and perspective related to the topic.

Avoid the defensive. Your job is not to draw more attention to falsehoods, misinformation, misconceptions, or intentional disinformation. Don’t let yourself or your story be usurped into someone else’s agenda. Stay affirmative.

Truth is your best defense. Organizations can combat rumors and falsehoods with the truth. That being understood, a credible and effective response incorporates facts, insight and perspectives that may not be widely known. An appropriate response doesn’t mean mindlessly attempting to address every speculation that comes up. Your audience expects (and deserves) a structured, coherent message based on relevant facts. Don’t disappoint.

The medium is part of the message. So now that you’re ready, don’t forget delivery is at least half as important as the message. Spokesperson, best method/platform for response, are all questions to be answered. Pick your time and your best audience, but don’t wait forever. We usually recommend a tandem method–in person, with your best spokesperson on the subject–and with immediate follow up on social media. Keep in mind, the goal is to never need to address this situation again.


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