Thought Leadership in the Age of Fake News

thought leadership, fake news, Elon musk, Chris Brogan, Doris Kearns Goodwin,

One of the traditionally best routes to positive brand identity, media exposure, and best of all—public trust, is if the founder, CEO, or public face of an entity you represent is, or has the potential to be, what we call a “thought leader.”

“Thought leader” is a jargon-y term, somewhat overused, but succinctly descriptive. A thought leader is a trusted expert in his/her field, often called upon to discuss innovation, best practices, or even the future of said field.

For example, Elon Musk is a thought leader in electric vehicles and space travel; Chris Brogan is a thought leader in marketing and social media; Douglas Brinkley and Doris Kearns Goodwin are thought leaders on American presidents.

Which brings us to the topic of “fake news.” To be clear, fake news isn’t new. While it is exacerbated by the immediacy—and the anonymity—of the Internet, fake news is not a product of the Internet. From Anecdoa to pasquinades to canards, fake news has been with us pretty much since humans could whisper and wink.

In the past, however, we all recognized the difference between stories about Sasquatch reigning terror across the Yukon and the Taliban reigning terror across Afghanistan. Now, we have honest-to-God fabrications finding their way into the news cycle, as well as people with traditionally venerated bully pulpits claiming any news they don’t like is fake—regardless of who reported it or how un-fake it really is.

Setting aside that entire mess, let’s focus for a moment on what that means for PR professionals. We spend much of our time trying to maintain or promote clients as thought leaders in media outlets that once were trusted sources but now are barraged with charges that they are purveyors of fake news.

Entering into any public conversation these days is not for the faint of heart. The topic could be “The Beauty of Roses” and before you can say “stop and smell them,” someone has posted that “Roses are a faux romantic symbol of the Princess trope foisted on young girls as a means of oppression. Boycott Roses!” And so it goes.

In a recent industry survey, 91% of journalists believe the public trusts them less in 2017 than in years past. With the public so angry and media under relentless attack, will people see our clients as reputable thought leaders or as suspicious co-conspirators with alleged fake news outlets? Should we still try to have our clients featured as thought leaders in media outlets?

Yes.

But let’s not stop there. It’s still a good thing for clients to be quoted in media coverage of a topic that’s germane to their expertise, thereby achieving third party validation of their role as thought leaders. The key is to be selective in where you place them.

  • Look for media outlets that retain the public trust, that maintain “standards and practices,” and that maintain clear lines between reportorial, editorial, and sales.
  • Look for bloggers who are themselves recognized leaders in their area of expertise.
  • Avoid outlets with a known political bent (unless that’s your audience).
  • Avoid outlets that are “pay to play.”

The other key is to be prolific.

  • Create think pieces (beyond blogs) for the company’s website and newsletters.
  • Write articles for the company’s LinkedIn page.
  • Create “white papers” on issues concerning your clients’ industries and professions.

As we’ve seen, anyone can dispute facts they don’t like. That doesn’t make those facts any less real. If your clients have something valuable to say, help them say it and help them find the right audience.

Five Christmas Clichés to Send Over the River and…You Know

Christmas cliches, Santa Claus, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Tis' the Season, The Knight Canney Group, public relations

We get it. It’s a busy time of year. You may be trying to get everything done so you can take time off over the holidays. Or maybe the client is insisting on a “funny parody” to promote an event or product. Whatever it is that’s pushing you toward any of these clichés, resist—and instead insist on a little more imagination. Be firm and say “no” to:

 

  1. Any parody of any line from “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Commonly referred to as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Clement Moore’s poem has been parodied to sell everything from mobile phone plans to men’s underwear. (Nothing says “Christmas” like a pitch to package the family jewels.)
  1. It’s beginning to look a lot like… We love Meredith Willson’s holiday song, but we don’t love it as an intro to the weather forecast or copy for a department store sale. It’s tired and uninspired. So, no. Just no. (And helpful tip: “a lot” in any context is two words: a and lot. Never alot.)
  1. The white stuff. While we’re mentioning weather, please just call it snow.
  1. The Grinch who stole… the money for the homeless shelter, the donated toys for tots, the wise men from the crèche—just fill in the blank. Sad stories all, made all the sadder by the same words we heard and read last year. And the year before.
  1. ’Tis the season. This is, hands down, the laziest of holiday copy writing. Whether it’s promotional, sales or news copy, anyone older than 12 who uses “’tis the season” is guilty of gross lack of imagination. ’Tis the season? ’Tis the reason you’re fired.

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, what a Grinch!” But no, we’re not stealing anything other than the opportunity for taking the easy way out in holiday copywriting. The principles that work all year round, work especially well during the holidays: tell a story, keep it simple, make it personal, know your audience.

One other helpful tip—no one actually likes fruitcake.

 

 

Community coalition reaches agreement to move forward with the purchase of Saddleback Mountain

Saddleback Mountain, Saddleback Community Foundation, Peter Stein

RANGELEY, MAINE | October 27, 2016 -New life is being breathed into Saddleback Mountain this week as a group of ski lovers have joined forces to purchase the mountain in Maine’s High Peaks. The Saddleback Community Mountain Resort, LLC is now moving forward with a plan to raise enough money to purchase the mountain and re-open the ski area.

Peter Stein is leading the effort and said: “ We have been working with the owners of the mountain, the Berry Family on this for awhile and we now have their verbal agreement on the terms of a transaction and a roadmap to acquire the ski area. We need to raise $4 million and we will close on the deal. When we originally looked at the community purchase we had immediate interest with several people making financial commitments – now we will turn that passion into power to buy the mountain.”

People interested in participating can go to www.skisaddlebackme.com beginning later this week to contribute to the purchase. In the meantime, a team of people will be re-contacting interested participants to convert their financial interest into commitments. A survey and other fund raising probes conducted over the last year between July and September, showed more than 800 people interested in keeping the mountain open and more than $5 million in commitments.

Meanwhile, the impact of another idle season at Saddleback has hit the Franklin County community hard. Bald Mountain Camp owner Steve Philbrick says, “With Saddleback closed Rangeley and the greater surrounding area as a whole suffers because we have less to offer the tourism industry. When Rangeley suffers, the state of Maine suffers, Franklin County suffers and the economic wheel in Maine suffers. In short, Saddleback Ski Area is a crucial part of Maine’s economy as well as Rangeley and Northern Franklin County.”

Part of this deal includes the Trust for Public Land, which, partnering with the New England Forestry Foundation and others, intends to purchase 3249 acres of adjacent forestland as a separate but related transaction. Conservation partners want to see that the land is permanently conserved for long-term sustainable forestry and habitat values. Maine State Director Wolfe Tone said, “This is the coming together of the benefits, of land conservation, community economic development and community well-being. Conservation today is more than dollars and acres, our work is about focusing the outcomes of land conservation to benefit people and communities.”
Peter Stein added, “We are now poised to build a great foundation for Saddleback and the surrounding community. We are ready to go!”

Is the Kim Kardashian Brand in Trouble?

Kim Kardashian, Public relations, Kardashian brand, Kardashian paris robbery, Kanye West

What does it mean when a popular brand is in distress and a considerable percentage of public response ranges from “It’s probably a publicity stunt” to “That’s what you get for showing off?”

As we all know now, Kim Kardashian, at whose PR savvy we have previously marveled, was recently the victim of an armed robbery while in Paris for Fashion Week.

Kardashian, with 48.3 million followers on Twitter and 84.2 million on Instagram, is the antithesis of shy. She generously shares every moment of her life with her fans and they with her. You may well wonder why she has fans, but that would just reveal your card-carrying membership in the Society of Crankypants.

While her reported ordeal at the hands of masked gunmen who tied her up and helped themselves to $9 million of her well publicized jewelry did elicit an outpouring of sympathy for the mother of two small children, it also unleashed a storm of scolding and outright skepticism. Everything from “Who travels with $9 million worth of jewelry?” to “Well, you know, Kanye West is $53 million in debt…”

Despite the tens of millions of fans, Kim Kardashian’s is a love/hate brand. Her fans love her. And, as they say, the haters gonna hate. In this era of living out loud and bilious anonymity, where everyone’s a pundit (yes, the irony of writing this in a blog abounds), love is all around, until it isn’t.

Is the Kim Kardashian brand in trouble? Does her crisis communications team need to swing into high gear? (The Paris Tourism bureau’s certainly does.) Will her new status as crime victim eclipse her image as CEO in charge of her fame and growing fortune?

Probably not.

With a net worth pegged at $51million derived from reality TV, and a mobile app, her savvy goes beyond being a PR machine. Her brand will withstand the raised eyebrows and the doubters, and likely will emerge stronger than ever—especially if the culprits are found and brought to justice.

One piece of advice for Kim: Get a new security firm. The one you have now has a real PR problem.

Planning For Your PR Crisis

PR Crisis, public relations crisis, crisis management, Target, Volkswagen, SeaWorld, Subway, Anthony Weiner, Colin Kaepernick

Never had a PR crisis in your business, your non-profit, or your campaign? Good for you! Just don’t get complacent, because someday you probably will.

Let’s face it, if you hang around long enough something, somewhere is bound to go wrong. As Frank Sinatra says, “That’s Life.”

The biggest names in their fields have been “ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.”

SeaWorld, Volkswagen, Target, and Subway are just a few of the corporate names that have suffered PR crises in the not too distant past. And then there are bold- face names such as Anthony Weiner, and Colin Kaepernick (Who actually wasn’t a bold-face name until two weeks ago, so his experience may even move from PR crisis to PR bonanza.)

You may think because yours isn’t a big company or a large enterprise that “crisis” is too big a word to befall your corner of the universe, but here’s a tip—if you have employees, if you deal with the public, if you handle money, if you have email, or a computer system—you’re vulnerable to a PR crisis. And that’s just a partial list of potential problem areas.

The best way to handle a crisis is to avoid it altogether, but that’s not always possible. Still, there are ways to prepare:

  1. Make a list of where you’re vulnerable: cyber security, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, on-site safety, etc.
  2. Look at your response capabilities: do you have someone on staff who understands crisis mitigation or how to communicate with media?
  3. Take stock of your internal and external communications.
  4. Do you have a lawyer?
  5. Do you have a trusted PR professional?

A crisis doesn’t always give you warning, but sometimes, you really can see one coming—if you know where to look.