In the era of fake news, PR needs to work harder than ever

As fewer and fewer millennials admit to trusting news sources, PRs have to work harder to ensure their stories are heard above the noise, writes Weber Shandwick's Megan Rosier.

As professional communicators and story tellers, there’s an incredibly fine line that we tread when it comes to curating communications and counselling spokespeople. We need to balance provocation with caution to grab headlines, but minimise risk. The challenge today is heightened by an increase in media distrust and a flourishing of content types and channels.

In order to better manage this balance, it’s important to consider the issue of media trust and navigate the ‘fake news’ phenomenon. According to the recent 2017 Digital News Report, an annual study released by the News & Media Research Centre (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra, the majority of Australians (56%) go so far as to say they avoid the news – often or occasionally – because it can have a negative effect on their mood.

If you layer over the many other factors impacting trust in brand and reputation, the challenges keep mounting particularly as you break down your audiences, even into generational groupings.

In the ‘fake news’ era, which journalists are rightfully claiming is undermining their profession, how can PR professionals counsel clients to gain the trust of increasingly sceptical audiences?

It starts with understanding – in depth – each individual media outlet we are considering, so we interpret and can decipher what the media are producing as ‘genuine news’ rather than ‘fake’ or sensationalised news.  

It also necessitates a stronger understanding than ever before of each audience demographic that we are targeting to know how to be engage and resonate with them.

Take millennials. For this audience, trust (or lack of trust) in the media is one challenge. Tust towards companies is another.

According to Weber Shandwick’s CEO Activism 2017 study, 51% of millennials say they would be more likely to buy from a company whose CEO spoke out on an issue they agree with.

Yet that same rule doesn’t apply across generations. CEO activism is less likely to positively affect the purchase decisions of gen Xers (33%) and boomers (30%). So, how do we as PR professionals respond and evolve our counsel for clients and spokespeople?

There needs to be a strong return to the fundamentals of our profession. This means a renewed focus on upfront research – an area so often cast aside due to lack of budgets.

As professionals we need to push harder to secure budget to do this research. This will ensure we unlock truly new and interesting insights and trends. With these, we can strengthen our storytelling, ensure our copy has punch and that visuals and graphics grab attention.

We also need to work our channels harder and use our consistent messaging to make stories fly across multiple mediums. Again, this is where the upfront investment in research will pay dividends for driving impact.

If you understand your audience, you know the channels and mediums they engage with and trust the most. As PR professionals, these are the core of our craft. The temptation to get too flashy or chase the headlines can navigate us away from good storytelling.

The time is now to return to our core, but with a truly research-driven approach.

Megan Rosier is GM Melbourne, SVP corporate and technology at Weber Shandwick Australia.


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