Here in Philadelphia, us Sixers fans have spent the last three-and-a-half years Trusting the Process, an acknowledgment that the team was going to deconstruct its roster in order to pave the way to future greatness. It took faith to have this trust, but the plan was logical (if uncomfortable), and it showed signs of working during this current season.
And then the team’s front office started to spin and lie.
They lied about injuries, they obfuscated about injured players’ recovery times, they misled about what they received back in trades. They undermined the trust, and now their raving fans are raving mad.
The trust has been undermined.
The team has taken an overly corporate, old school approach to public relations, and in this age of transparency, it has backfired.
Yes, fake news dominates discussions and it’s tempting to think that the truth no longer matters. Everywhere we look, it seems there’s an erosion of trust.
It may be tempting to say screw it, we can say whatever we want and no one cares anymore, but our belief is that that’s not going to be a good long-term strategy. Yes, you can spin wild tales about how awesome your company is doing and generate a lot of attention from a press corps that’s paying half-attention, but ask Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos how that plays out in the end; her company completely oversold its innovative pinprick blood test, which sadly did not work.
Sure, there can be short-term wins, but how sustainable is it? Eventually, the person or company that hires you to do a job is going to want you to deliver. Eventually, someone is going to blow the whistle on your exaggerations. Eventually, your customers are going to realize that your performance can’t match the BS you spewed to get press coverage.
In today’s transparent information environment, someone somewhere knows the truth. And it will come out. As they say, the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
What, exactly, is public relations supposed to do?
The goal of public relations is to create the best possible perception of your organization. When the number of media outlets was more limited than it is today, it was much easier to spin your way out of a jam – stonewalling the media worked.
Today, stonewalling is just about the worst possible approach anyone can take to creating a positive impression. Because even if the mainstream media is ready and willing to move on from whatever faux pas your brand has committed, someone out there with a blog or a lot of social media followers is going to be on it like a dog on a bone. That means you can’t escape the truth.
This means the concept many business leaders have in their heads about the function of PR – to make bad news go away – is actually going to exacerbate the problem. You can’t sweep bad news under the carpet.
The role of the PR pro has changed. Today, she MUST represent the audience’s point of view. It’s incumbent upon your public relations staff to honestly assess what the reaction will be from customers when you send a message out into the world, and to push back against the selfish or less-than-courageous messaging instincts of C-levels used to getting their way.
The Content Marketing Opportunity to Build Trust
One of the (many) problems the news media has is demonstrated in the Theranos case. The Silicon Valley tech media puffed up Theranos with fawning coverage, and then once they created the monster kept on cheerleading for Holmes and her company. Vanity Fair pointed out that because the media is in a dogfight every day to get the most page views and the biggest audience, it can’t risk having access cut off; if a news outlet doesn’t have the big story on the biggest brand, it falls behind its competition. They increasingly have an inherent conflict between the truth and what’s good for business.
Brands engaged in content marketing don’t have this problem. Their revenue doesn’t depend on advertising, so the size of their audience isn’t early as important; your content marketing team should not be chasing clicks, it should be chasing the “right audience” – people or companies that could buy from you.
Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi recently opined that the fake news phenomenon is actually a significant opportunity for brands – because they aren’t chasing a mass audience, they can focus on building trust with the audience.
“… the real opportunity I see here is for product brands to stake their claim by becoming the trusted news source fort the audience they cover.”
Yes, a brand engaged in content marketing has a bias, but the bias is upfront and understood before the audience consumes the content. That’s a huge difference. And – a brand that doesn’t try to hide the angle it’s bringing to the conversation has a chance to do the most important and often difficult task in marketing today: