Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Propaganda, manipulation, influence, rumours have always existed. But, thanks partly to activities across the Atlantic, we now have a new name for them… FAKE NEWS!

By definition, fake news is deliberately false or rigged information spread through digital or social media. It is notably in the aftermath of Brexit and during the American and French presidential campaigns of 2016-2017 that the expression “Fake News” exploded as these three political campaigns were subjected to the dissemination of false information on social networks, created with the aim of influencing voter behaviour.

When we know that two-thirds of American adults get their information via social networks and that, in France, one-third of social media users surveyed think that some fake news is true, it becomes an issue.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a resurgence of fake news with disastrous consequences. Sometimes far-fetched, often misleading, this false news swarmed on the internet during the containment. The internet and the rise of social networks have accentuated this phenomenon of misinformation by radically changing the traditional information circuit.

How is this happening?

  1. By creating interdependence between media, social networks and search engines, we no longer access information directly through a media (TV, radio or newspaper) but we often use an intermediary such as: Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube etc…
  2. By allowing everyone to become a media outlet, there is no monopoly anymore on the crafting of “news”. What was restricted to journalists is now an open bar.

Sure, solutions have been put in place. “Fact-checking” is broadcasted as the new Eldorado but when it was used before, it led to more scrutiny and scepticism from the general public.

When two institutions such as the AFP and Le Monde feel the need to create fact-checking departments (the MediaLab and Decodex), it is both a commendable effort and a self-inflicted injury. Isn’t that at the core of what a media does? Isn’t fact-checking an absolute part of the job?

In 2019, the French government adopted an “anti-fake news” law and most social networks followed suit. Facebook, Google and Twitter, Mozilla, as well as advertisers and representatives of the advertising industry have signed a code of good practice against misinformation with the European Commission.

Too little too late?

And what about our industry? Aren’t PR agencies, along with news agencies, social networks and search engines, key players in the information economy?

Sending hundreds/thousands of press releases per day, PR agencies overwhelm journalists with content which is both an essential link in the information chain between companies and media but also very often unverified and biased.

As a key player in the media cycle, we have a duty of transparency and an obligation of being a reliable and trusted source of content just as much as these players. Often under fire from critics or even openly condemned, the press and journalists must be able to trust agencies to provide them with verified and balanced content.

What concrete solutions can we put in place beyond a simple code of good practice against disinformation, which is certainly helpful but still too ineffective for us as information professionals? Providing verified, traced information is nowadays the duty of communication agencies. In order to protect clients or to facilitate the work of journalists, agencies must strengthen the systems they put in place to control and monitor information. In addition to the necessary adherence to a code of good conduct and raising the awareness of our ecosystem to the issue of fake news, the use of new technologies such as the blockchain is an option to be carefully considered.

There are solutions out there to certify the flow of information we send. It’s time agencies go beyond simply adhering to a code of good practices and create a label of controlled information which will be a warrant of trust. Otherwise, we will forever be associated with the “fake news” stamp of infamy.

Communicating During a Crisis

Communicating During a Crisis

It’s been multiple months since V2 joined the ranks of businesses around the globe which made the quick switch to remote work. This adjustment posed a highly unique moment for the leadership team: how were we to support our now-widespread workforce as its members endured an ever-expanding list of challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak?

The answer laid in practicing what we preach: communicating honestly and often and prioritizing the wellbeing of our employees. Amidst disruption, making a concerted effort to maintain an atmosphere of collaboration and connectivity continues to be one of our strongest solutions for dealing with the pressing situation. From our own experience, here are best practices for managing the remainder of this crisis and understanding how to lead organizations into the future.

Communicate honestly and often

As an agency whose operations are predicated on communications, we understand the value of transparency, especially between management and fellow employees. Executing thoughtful communications when disaster strikes has the power to ease fears and guide individuals as the situation advances. While circumstantial details may be lacking at the onset, it is still the expectation of leaders to update their employees on the situation to the best of their ability, being mindful not to spread unverified information. From there, proactively addressing how your company will collectively face the challenge at hand offers a sense of control over the issue, as leaving employees in the dark will only contribute to an environment of anxiety and chaos.

To be clear, a strong leader is not someone who has all the answers all the time, but simply someone who demonstrates active problem solving and offers consistent reassurance rather than cynicism. Honesty with employees signifies that you trust and value them; to show them anything less would be a disservice and disrespectful to them, as well as your company.

Base your crisis response plan on company values

Your crisis response plan should be an extension of your company value set, which is defined in the first place to govern the daily operations of your workplace. As you navigate the situation at hand, think of how you intend to uphold these guiding principles despite having a displaced workforce. For example, at V2, we’re big advocates for a strong company culture, and we’re constantly coming up with new ways to support it remotely. From video staff meetings to digital happy hours, we use tech to keep us connected. Especially because working from home can feel isolating, having time to gather and connect boosts our spirits and reminds us that we all have a supportive network behind us.

Prioritize employee needs and emotions

Executive suites may feel a pressure to accommodate the demands of stakeholders and lawmakers during a crisis to protect revenue and mitigate liability, but the priority here should really be the wellbeing of your employees. Choosing to cater to outside parties instead of the individuals who constitute your organization will be a major mistake for business integrity and productivity, which will inevitably crash without the support of hardworking staff.

In addition to all-team meetings and communications, make time to connect with employees on a personal level. This includes sharing thoughts and concerns of your own and making yourself more available than usual to staff who may want or need to discuss their concerns with someone in seemingly more control of the situation. By affirming that you’re weathering the crisis alongside your team, you develop a sense of camaraderie and allegiance across your team.

Celebrate the victories as they come

To quantify business success during a crisis by the same metrics you would use in the best of times will inevitably yield a disappointing and inaccurate reflection of your company. Atypical circumstances require leaders to redefine how they view and measure success at least temporarily. Even just maintaining operations (e.g., steady sales or an intact client roster) instead of growing marks a victory, as it demonstrates that your team has still been able to meet expectations despite pressing challenges. And to circle back to company culture: don’t forget to celebrate victories as they come. Leaders should make an effort to remind employees their work is valued to continue encouraging positive spirits.

The coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated that all businesses, regardless of industry, will have to face crisis situations at one point or another in their lifetime. This means that business leaders need to be prepared to direct their organizations when the time comes. The mark of a great organization is a company whose leadership rises to the occasion when the time comes.  Whatever the situation, honesty and authenticity will always be the answer for earning employee trust and maintaining a sense of calm amidst crisis.

Crisis Comms Expertise, an Essential Tool for US Businesses Surviving Bankruptcy, Financial Restructuring or Furloughs

Crisis Comms Expertise, an Essential Tool for US Businesses Surviving Bankruptcy, Financial Restructuring or Furloughs

Per the American Bankruptcy Institute, 722 companies in May 2020 sought bankruptcy protection, the tech sector saw the most bankruptcy filings in the first half of a year since 2009, and well-over 2,200 commercial organizations nationwide have filed for Chapter 11 this year. Last year a total of 6,800 companies filed for bankruptcies. So ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet!’

Business leaders around the US are confronting unprecedented challenges. As uncertainty looms, we’re all looking to determine what’s next and how to implement future plans.

As we all undergo trying times, determining how to explain our struggles is more vital than it has ever been. Business growth may not be feasible now, and survival may hinge on carefully managing liquidity or restructuring efforts.

Maintaining liquidity or reorganizing during the current storm and beyond requires expertise that might not be available in-house.

Navigating Bankruptcy and Financial Reorganization

Many US companies will need to adjust to stay solvent. This may be as simple as implementing a new financial plan to accommodate the current situation, including not spending on rent, lessening expenses or reducing payroll.

For others, however, a more formal statement and new business plan will be required. One that creditors and a court can deem acceptable.

Actively seeking professional counsel is a critical way to show stakeholders your leadership and proactive efforts. Set a clear course and request help. From internal sources, but also outside professionals, such as financial consultants, lawyers, and communications specialists, who can advise you on available options to decrease financial burden and attain some level of continuity.

Communicating Optimism in Crisis

Whatever level of crisis an organization and its financial and legal experts must work through, it is vital for it to consider collaborating with a public relations firm equipped to manage bankruptcy communications. This can help uphold the integrity of its reputation and brand.

Planning and executing crisis communications effectively is necessary to ensure customers, investors, employees, media, and partners stay engaged with a company.

An effective bankruptcy communications roadmap will need to build hope and optimism. To achieve this, a plan should include close collaboration with bankruptcy lawyers alongside strategically-directed key messages for business representatives and media training for employees and executives, who will need to share unfavorable news with confidence while positioning the business to recover its value and succeed.

Implementing the Right Strategy

Crisis communications require precision on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, organizations facing challenges should seek communications partners that can customize plans specifically for their needs. Many organizations have their own strengths, so teams should carefully choose who to partner with and strive to gain an honest and transparent relationship with the firms they are considering.

Once a communications roadmap is laid out (and sometimes planning must overlap with execution), it’s time to implement a tactical key message approach. This must be done in a way that helps build and sustain positive relationships with the media and stakeholders via a multitude of strategies — from internal and external communications, social media, news releases, investor relations, and more.

Experience also plays a large role in success. Veterans who have been neck-deep in crisis and emerged successfully with positive messaging can explain first-hand what they have seen work and fail. And the human element is also vital. In every instance – it’s important that crisis communications clearly maintain the value businesses place on customers and employees and the humanity leadership displays as they try to help themselves and others navigate troubled waters.

About the Author

Bob Gold founded and manages Bob Gold & Associates, one of the premiere independent integrated communications public relations agencies in the United States.  The agency specialty is being experts at the nexus where video content meets technology and distribution. In 2019 Public Relations Society (PRSA) Los Angeles named him Communications Professional of the Year.

During his more than 30 years in public relations and marketing, Bob Gold has helped launch more than a dozen companies, re-branded many others, and created successful campaigns for numerous start-ups and Fortune 500 brands.

Gold is also the Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Hemisphere Technologies Inc., a Nevada corporation, which is dedicated to investing in technology companies. Gold has extensive experience in small and large-scale transactions and works as a key member engaged in all aspects including sourcing, evaluating, structuring, monitoring, and, where applicable, harvesting investments.

When he’s not helping others, Gold can usually be found more than 65 feet underwater on a scuba diving “mancation” with his three sons.

Why Listening to Local Knowledge Can Make or Break Global PR Campaigns

Why Listening to Local Knowledge Can Make or Break Global PR Campaigns

When it comes to rolling out global PR campaigns, you will be faced with a multitude of choices and challenges to navigate. For example, how to achieve consistent results across all regions, while also making sure work is shared among teams to avoid double effort and fee for the same results.

Local knowledge is always at the heart of achieving results. That’s why we always recommend rolling out global campaigns through a network of local agencies who can work cohesively as one account team.

As a lead agency with experience in executing global PR campaigns, we embrace the task of not only being the primary point of contact for our client, but also having the responsibility to ensure we get the most out of the other agencies we partner with regardless of what country they operate in.

We spoke to our partner agencies that we regularly work with to find out their views.

The secret of success

Two key factors to consider are to thoroughly listen to partners and build a strong open relationship, as highlighted by Robert Brownlie, Associate Account Executive at Los Angeles-based PR firm Bob Gold & Associates.

“When working with a lead agency on a global PR rollout, collaboration and fluid communication are key, building trust and operating as if we are a part of the same agency. In this regard, we want to mutually understand the goals behind success metrics and to be able to study and share what has worked and what hasn’t. This helps us go beyond simply checking in boxes to meet deliverables and enables us to work as a successful team that builds and promotes a powerful client narrative.

“What we don’t want is to operate in a siloed vacuum or to go long periods without touching base. Even if two agencies are operating on separate sides of the globe, it’s important to communicate often and use each other’s resources,” added Brownlie.

This open method of communication gives each agency a platform they can comfortably express which specific tactics will engage the end audience in their region.

Listen to the locals

When operating as a lead agency, understanding the core differences in region and listening to each agency’s requirements can be the difference between success and failure.

Alain Blaes, General Manager at Munich-based communications consultancy PR-COM said: “In our experience, openness to understanding a regional agency’s needs is paramount to a successful campaign, as media landscapes vary drastically between regions. From big picture topics such as media strategy, to individual by-line topics, what works in one region may not work in another, and no one knows these ins and outs like a local agency.

“The German media values a local touch. A common misconception is that out-of-town executives will be shoo-ins for interviews with the business press when they visit Germany, but that isn’t the case. German journalists want to hear experts comment on their strategy, and back their statements up with experience in the local market. They aren’t interested in the marketing-speech common in the US, for example.”

It’s also worth adding, that these regional nuances might not be what your client wants to hear, but it’s your responsibility to not just share this with the client, but actively work with the regional agency to establish what will work – and what techniques will be effective.

Don’t break the budget

When planning a PR campaign that will ‘take the globe by storm’, realistic budget planning is crucial, as highlighted by Lauren Brush, Associate Account Director at Dubai-based Active Digital Marketing Communications Agency.

“The most difficult thing for US or European companies to understand is how expansive the Middle East is. Organisations often believe that a similar budget that equates to one European country will suffice for the whole MENA region, which isn’t the case. The Middle East consists of very different countries and they all approach journalism and target audiences in different ways. For example, in Saudi Arabia there needs to be a focus on digital as the media landscape isn’t as vast, while the UAE has a wide media landscape that includes both English speaking and Arabic journalists, which often requires additional translation costs.

“When multiple agencies work together, collaboration is key and sometimes agencies can tend to try and compete with each other in front of the client. This is often counterproductive, so establishing respect and two-way communication from the outset is crucial. That’s why working with Whiteoaks is easy, because it’s clear that we work as a partnership which helps achieves stronger results for the client.”

Our approach

At Whiteoaks International, we believe that local insight is priceless and pride ourselves on being able to lead the deployment of global PR campaigns for clients by working with local PR agencies across the globe through the WIN PR Group, an instant international PR network that covers over 70 countries. Our approach allows clients to tap into a wealth of local knowledge while benefitting from consistent strategic planning and account management delivered by the Whiteoaks team. We develop the best option that will meet your needs for global PR, whether that’s working with agencies from our WIN PR Group, selecting your own local agencies and working within our IPM structure, a combination of these two approaches, or leveraging active relationships with your local network of PR agencies and adopting the Whiteoaks IPM approach.