How Truth, the Never-Ending Political Newscycle and Skepticism are Changing the Public Relations Landscape
By Mark Shadle
Paradigm? Quantum? Tectonic? While it’s not quite clear how exactly to characterize the dynamic shift in media tone, style and coverage since Election Day, what we do know is that we must significantly change our approach to earned media in this new era. Pundits and analysts widely believe media got the election wrong and this is driving many outlets to do what they can to reclaim relevance and influence. In so doing, they are shifting American journalism to a place we really haven’t seen since the turn of the last century.
So, against that backdrop, how do brands navigate these new, choppy media waters? Quite plainly, the old media playbook is dead. “Trust,” “benefit of the doubt” and “statements of fact” have all given way to a new era of skepticism, distrust, and the absolute need for irrefutable proof points. Media has always been paid to be skeptical, but today, reporters are approaching all narratives with a “prove it” mentality. Prior to the election, the public needed a reason to distrust: a company recalls a product; an executive mired in scandal; the media uncovers a lie; somebody does something stupid and opinions shift. Today, people don’t need a reason to distrust: that’s the starting point.
To establish more constructive relationships between clients and media, some basic principles ought to be emphasized.
Here now, in no particular order, are our 10 Rules of Engagement for a New Media Era:
- Get Real. Authenticity, candor and transparency have never been more important. With CEO credibility at an all time low, this should be top of mind for all internal and external communications.
- Modernize Distribution of News. Blogs, simply by tone and structure, can be more effective ways to announce news than a traditional press release; offering the appearance of informality and engagement with key constituencies. Also, consider outlets beyond the more traditional news organizations: look for the right target that has the ability to spread your news through a variety of social media platforms; explore Facebook Live, Snapchat Discover and other new forms of broadcast.
- Act Like a Media Company. Corporations must view themselves as their own media syndicate. With owned media, they can establish their voice, narrative and vision rather than relying on media to do it for them. Op-eds, white papers, blogs, presentations, corporate videos so executives can put a face on the message are just some examples.
- Take a Multi-Format Content Approach. The days of “one and done” are gone: Every media appearance should be augmented by a blog or op-ed, a tweet or LinkedIn post that talks about the issue further and inspires various constituencies to launch conversations about it. Coordinated, integrated content creation and social/digital distribution and amplification of thought leadership presence is table stakes today.
- Cultivate Relationships. Conversations with – as opposed to announcements to -media will nurture relationships and augment credibility.
- Mobilize a Chorus of Voices. Igniting third party, peer to peer and/or influential advocates is incredibly valuable, whether paid or not.
- Build an Arsenal of Proof Points. Data and analytics are our friends. Media want to validate all claims with industry or proprietary internal data. Numbers and the context around them matter. A lot.
- Look Inside for Advocacy in Your Back Yard. Enlisting employees as evangelists and influencers creates a more grassroots distribution channel for messaging. Deepening relationships with local media will help generate goodwill internally and externally in the community.
- Integrate Social Strategy. Enriching all news and narratives with a robust, complementary social strategy amplifies messaging in an authentic way.
- Enable Cross-Channel Engagement. Engaging with audiences through social channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and owned company channels, elicits conversation and empowers stakeholders with a sense of participating in the news and even influencing the decision-making process. Consider the same approach for internal platforms.
The companies and brands that will thrive in these contentious times are the ones that adjust their communications strategies, tactics and messaging, blending as many as these principles as they can.