By Cole Braun
As you go through your Facebook news feeds, there is sure to be headlines for a variety of topics. Many of them are hilarious, or maybe even scary. But you, the public relations professional, know better than to believe everything. But what about your clients you represent, or your own family? Do they know how to differentiate what is based on fact and what is made up for the sake of increasing click-through reports? You can help them with this guide to addressing fake news and how a professional should deal with it.
The first thing to understand is that PR professionals have no business adding fuel to the fake news fire. We all know it has become a problem which is why we must take a stand against it. The Public Relations Society of America addressed fake news with an official statement in January, 2017 saying that, “Truth is the foundation of all effective communications. By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our responsibility to communicate with honesty and accuracy.”
PRSA & The Code of Ethics
If you are familiar with PRSA, or the student organization, PRSSA, you know this organization established a code of ethics that members take seriously. The official statement on alternative facts, reflects on the organization’s code of honesty, saying that members, “adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.” If you wish to know more about the PRSA Code of Ethics, please follow here.
The PRSA Statement on “Alternative Facts” was released in January by the organization’s Chair of the Society for 2017, Jane Dvorak, APR and Fellow PRSA. After addressing how the society values its Code of Ethics, she finished by saying, “PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts. We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth.”
One of the first things we as professionals must do is research. When dealing with information, we must ask, ‘Where did this come from?’ ‘Where does this link back to and who said what?’ You never jump into strange waters without a life preserver, or in this case, the facts.
A Rule of Three
Check your story three times before you take it seriously and hit the share button. You need to see how many people are saying the same thing and, if it is coming from a credible source. If the topic is breaking news, more than one publication will be telling the story.
CNN Correspondent, Brian Stelter said in his report, The plague of fake news is getting worse — here’s how to protect yourself, from October 2016, that there are three general categories related to misleading online information sites.
- Hoax Sites: completely fake
- Hyper-Partisan Sites: Some truth involved but stretched for the sake of the parties involved.
- Hybrid Sites: A mix of fake and fact combined to make a good story.
Whatever their purpose, these sites are not going away anytime soon, so learn to recognize them. Here are some tips found in the same article from CNN, shared by the Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard in a tweet:
- Search the source link on Twitter
- Google it
- Check Snopes
- Consider record of source
These are all excellent tips, and you can take it a step further with a Google search of the author’s name to see if they are credible as a reporter.
Open the Floodgates of Positivity
When it comes to combating the fake news epidemic, there are multiple recommendations on what to do.
If you have prepared for a crisis already, you probably have a pre-written response to a situation like this; that’s good! In February 2017, an article on How PR professionals should handle the fake news phenomenon appeared in Agility PR, written by Director of Media Insights Jim Donnelly. Donnelly conducted an interview with Hofstra University Professor and Bloomberg contributor Dr. Kara Alaimo on handling fake news. One question specifically addressed these situations with two or three rules to keep in mind. One positive measure is to have a response ready in advance, because when it comes to experiencing a crisis, every minute counts.
Alaimo also points out making sure you are keeping your client’s values in mind while communicating. If this is something you have been consistently doing before this incident, then it will be no hassle to reference back to, showing your clients’ interests are a priority.
A common question is when is it best to respond?
That answer seems to vary across multiple professionals. In the end, it just depends on the situation. For example, when it comes to internet trolls, it is best to just ignore them so they move along. But when their story trends, then answer with the truth, do not allow yourself to get flustered because that only feeds the trolls.
Alaimo share as well that, “you need to monitor carefully. The time to respond is if a social media post is starting to gain traction amongst stakeholders who are important to the company, such as customers, employees, investors, buyers, or board members.”
Another form of combating fake news is to “flood the media with a positive narrative.” In a November 2016 article for PR Week by Ilyse Liffreing, So your brand is the victim of fake news. Now what? Liffreing shares that you need to embrace the crisis and make the best of it, reversing the dialogue to positive content about what is happening with your brand. Share the truth and back it up with more positivity. If you don’t counter with good news, you could potentially open yourself up to more fake news.
The question now is, where are we headed as a profession in this new era of alternative facts?
The first thing to remember is accountability. Dan Guttridge from Ragan’s PR Daily notes in his March 6 article, PR pros’ role in the fake news epidemic, that we need to hold journalists accountable and “check credibility through facts and sources.” We can even take this a step forward and hold ourselves accountable for what we say to people and how we represent our brand as we traverse this terrain of fake news.
Guttridge shares some more amazing tips as you continue through his article. Here are some other key points we should consider as PR professionals,
- Do your own research.
- Stop reading headlines as facts.
- Expand your world.
That last tip is fascinating because he makes the argument to find some reputable journalist to read and take the time to learn more about what is happening. Speak to people who challenge your views and make you think.
We as PR professionals can provide the cure for the fake news virus. Know that if we keep our integrity and credibility, public relations will thrive in this fight.
By Hali Mieser
Public relations has many different definitions but it all comes down to being “the voice behind the voice.” But what if you were the “voice behind the voice” during a crisis? As a public relations professional, crisis communication is one of the many jobs we take on for our organization.
What is crisis communication?
Crisis communication is the dialog between the organization and its publics prior to, during, and after the negative occurrence. During a crisis, PR professionals must create strategic messages to inform an organization’s key publics about a crisis that has occurred within the organization. In today’s world, social media is an important factor that plays a huge role in the circulation of information. Traditional media outlets, however, are still valuable depending on an organization’s key stakeholders.
With the rapid flow of information, PR professionals have to be “on their toes” at all times. The “golden hour” has now turned into the “golden few minutes” when it comes to disseminating crucial information about an organization’s crisis.
Now you know what a crisis is but how do you handle a crisis?
Crisis management is the process of removing some of the risk and uncertainty from the negative occurrences that an organization could be exposed to which allows the organization to be in greater control of what happens to them. Another thing that allows an organization to be in greater control, particularly during a crisis, is creating and maintaining positive relations with their key publics.
Why are good relationships important?
A positive relationship with the media is imperative when it comes to a crisis. Having a good relationships with the media ensures that they know you are ethical, professional, reliable and accurate in the information you provide.
It is important to maintain a positive relationship within the community in which an organization resides. In the scene of a crisis, the organization knows it can rely on its community and vice versa.
What better way to keep an organization afloat than its employees? Building solid and supportive relationships with an organization’s’ employees and internal publics is important because it makes employees feel a part of the organization and helps them feel valued.
The final group to create positive relations with is the organization’s consumers. It is important to create a mutual bond between the company and its customers. Building this relationship can be as simple as return policies, sales advantages, educational material, open houses, and a complaint system.
Many public relations professionals say it is not a question of if an organization will experience a crisis, but when. Be prepared for these challenges, understanding that being able to add “crisis communication specialist” to your resume will serve you well in the job market.
by Jonathan Haile
If you have ever plunged into a program such as Cision, you understand there are thousands of media outlets covering hundreds of topics. That said, you might have a hard time believing that the number of journalists working today is at its lowest since 1978, says Pew Research. With the number of journalists and media contacts on the decline, PR professionals need to maximize their media relations efforts.
Mickie Kennedy of eReleases speaks to the impact of declining number of journalists on PR pros, so I offer a few suggestions in response to his PR Daily article.
1. Don’t forget about bloggers
While the number of journalists is declining, bloggers are enjoying their days as online influencers. As they build their audiences, build your relationships with them. Building these relationships can be as simple as sharing their content on social media sites, a suggestion from digital marketing analyst Brian Solis, or as involved as meeting up for coffee to discuss what topics they would be most interested in covering and how and when they would prefer to receive the pitches you want them to cover.
In the event that the blogger shares your story, be sure to acknowledge them on social media with a mention. For instance, “Check out what ‘xyz blogger’ had to say about our new product. Thanks for the shout out!”
2. Make sure your website has a “News” section
By this, I mean publish your own content. When you need to release information, post it on the news section or blog section on your website, and share that page on the social media platforms you utilize. Most large organizations have press sections on their sites, but if you’re working for a small company or with a small client as their representative and public relations council, you should recommend the client adds the feature to their site if they haven’t already done so.
3. Simply ask to whom you should send your pitch
In my Strategic Planning course, like all my peers, I was taught to pitch to one person at each media outlet. In my most recent internship, I was told to pitch to more than one contact at an outlet. Certainly, there are different schools of thought. Maybe the answer is calling the news desk and asking for suggestions about the best person to receive pitches for articles. Once you have that name, you’re set. Of course, if there are other contacts at the outlet who you know will be interested in your story, send it to them as well.
4. Leverage your relationships
You might be pitching to a journalist who hasn’t been receptive to your attempts in the past, but you know that a coworker has had success reaching that journalist, and they might be successful again in the future. Have the coworker pitch your story. They already have the rapport and it’s possible they can introduce you to the journalist, helping you build that relationship for yourself.
If you look around, you’ll find plenty of ways to deal with the declining number of journalists, but I hope I have provided you with four tools you can use in the meantime. Being a PR professional at a time when the number of journalists is decline is a challenge, but as with any challenge, there are exciting opportunities and different methods for getting your story or news to the masses.