Monthly Archives: June 2017

Navigating a Fake News World – APCO Worldwide csuitepodcast interview

Interview starts at 11:45

For the second interview of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit, I spoke to the CEO of APCO worldwide, Brad Staples

russ-and-brad

Chatting with APCO’s Brad Staples (left)

Brad had earlier given a talk on how corporate communicators can best navigate a fake news world, a conversation that followed on nicely from the interview I did with Nick Barron of Edelman in the previous show, which is well worth a listen.

In that podcast, Nick said that fake news had always been around, and Brad agrees, as he said it’s the nature of human beings to, from time to time, tell lies and untruths.  However, he added that the power and presence of the internet and the scale and impact of social media has just meant the manipulation of the truth has an impact that far exceeds the truth itself and it has changed world events.

APCO recently carried out its own research on the topic where they asked a representative proportion of UK and US population a series of questions about fake news and according to the findings, people don’t know what to trust because there is so much news and information available.  However, Brad felt that people do want to trust the news. Everyone questioned in the survey trusted traditional media more than social media, but 18-34 year olds were twice as likely to support social media output than the over 55s. When asked whether they could distinguish between fake news and real news, 72% in the US and 67% in the UK said they could not.

Brad made a point that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden represent an aggressive movement for transparency, for clarity and for putting data and information out unencumbered to the world at large. Their choice to disaggregate traditional media that would validate that information paved a way for what we see now, i.e., a gap for those who will put out disputable data as news. These instigators created a sense that to get facts you do not need to go to traditional media, as in the past.

Brad said disruptors who saw this opportunity, i.e. Steve Bannon, a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign and now the White House Chief Strategist, have been able to capitalise from this moment because there is a hunger within the population to hear what you want to believe created by like-minded people.

The beneficiaries of this fake news have been the politicians, not just Donald Trump, but also Putin, Xi Jinping, and other new nationalist leaders who manage the media, disaggregate the media or simply chosen to ignore traditional media and prefer to work with social media platforms.

Also in APCO’s research was the question of whether people felt they could distinguish between fake news and real news.  It turns out that 69% of the US public and 53% of the British who responded, thought they could tell the difference, but when given some data that included both truthful and fake news coverage, it turns out Brits were better at actually identifying the difference.

Referring back to the title of his talk, Brad said that corporate communicators need to use caution to navigate the world of fake news. They need to be alert, aware and informed as well as using all the resources they have in their communications departments and using their agencies to make sure they have the ability to engage quickly from a position of authority and to rebuff fake news stories when they appear. He explained that many of his agency’s clients are big corporations facing challenges and changes they can’t get to grips with – unfamiliar markets or dynamics – so the fake news aspect creates opportunities for his business. Of concern is if the guidance or advice being given is correct at that moment and in that context.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Purpose driven brands – Pizza Hut Restaurants UK csuitepodcast interview

Show 43 of the csuitepodcast was recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit in London and my first guest was Gareth Hopley, Head of PR and Communications at Pizza Hut Restaurants in the UK.

Chatting with Gareth Hopely (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Chatting with Gareth Hopley (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Gareth had earlier taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of ‘Purpose driven brands in an era of PR nightmares’, which had centred on brands with a purpose behind what they do, how that purpose is found, whether it should start internally and then be used for external marketing or whether agencies can help find the purpose to give you a reason to connect with your customer base.

Gareth said that it was heavily agreed on the panel that it is best to start with an internal purpose, which helps define who the brand is and that it should be authentic and genuine to what that organisation believes.

According to Gareth, Pizza Hut Restaurant’s purpose is ‘to be the most loved place to eat and work’ and the motivation behind this is that, as a restaurant business, the organisation wants customers to love to eat with them and want its employees to love to work for them and to feel connected to the company. Gareth said that the belief is that you will never make the customers feel better than you make your own people feel.  He added that the broader reason for this as a mission statement is that customers choose to spend an hour eating at their restaurants, for whatever reason, i.e., they could be celebrating or commiserating, but they have chosen Pizza Hut to spend that hour and so to make that hour great.  He said that you therefore need to ensure the workforce want to be there and support each other or they will not deliver the necessary service and therefore the business would fail.

Pizza Hut employs 8000 people in the UK and Gareth said that given they spend much of their time at work, it’s important to ensure they love it and care about the company.  Looking after the workforce is therefore extremely important and so Pizza Hut has partnered with Mental Health UK and Rethink. These charities were chosen because people are at the heart of the business – added to those thousands of employees, Pizza Hut also has about two and half million visitors to its restaurants every month.

Gareth explained that, with 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, this will mean a lot of people that touch the business are likely to be affected at some time.

Pizza Hut therefore want to create an environment and culture, internally, where people feel supported and can connect with each other.  The aim is to get to a point where all team members can raise their hand and say, ‘I need help’, without feeling judged and Gareth thinks that all Pizza Hut Restaurant’s employees have reacted positively to the charity partnerships.  Their management are therefore trained to help use emotional and behavioural skills, teaching them leadership and how to recognise how their behaviour impacts those around them, how they can empathise and support their team and recognize when their team members need help.  Of course you can teach them how to make a pizza, Gareth says, but he adds that it’s this management training that will ensure the customer gets the best service.

Gareth shared a story about a specific team manager who had been impacted by a mental health condition and recognised the stress of being a manager but he felt he couldn’t ask for help.  As he explained, at Pizza Hut, you can be running a team of 30 to 50 people and be responsible for a multi-million pound business at a very young age and the strain of that exacerbated this particular individual’s situation. He was therefore given the time off that he needed and returned to company as a team member when he felt ready, but has since re-joined the management program. Gareth was very proud of the fact that this proved this particular employee felt he could ask for help without the fear of being judged or treated badly.

Finally, as far as other campaigns that have inspired Gareth, he said liked Heineken’s ‘World Apart’. He felt the ad showed many similarities in what Heineken were trying to do compared with Pizza Hut’s purpose – just as a restaurant connects people so does going for a beer in a pub.

The campaign shows pairs of strangers who were shown videos about each other and realised they had contrasting and opposing views. They were then given the option to stay and discuss their differences or not.  Obviously they chose to stay but Gareth felt the way the campaign was shot and delivered felt very genuine. He thought that what it was communicating about Heineken having a broader purpose of bringing people together in the world resonated very strongly with what Pizza Hut believe, i.e. no matter who you are or what you are wearing or where you come from, everyone is welcome in their restaurants.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Relevancy in a post-truth world – csuitepodcast show 42


(Interview starts at 24min)

In the final interview of Show 42 of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with Nick Barron, Managing Director for Corporate Reputation at Edelman who had taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of PR in the political landscape – how do brands remain relevant in a post-truth world’.

Nick has some very strong views on both ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’, phrases that are now being used with great regularity.  He believes that whilst they have some merit in terms of what they mean and stand for, they have become an excuse for the liberal elites (citing those at PR360, including himself) to avoid having to look inwards.  He said that post-truth has become a catch all phrase for anyone who doesn’t come to the same conclusions as those in the group he referred to come to when they look at a problem, and fake news has become a catch all term for any news source they don’t like very much!

He did caveat this with the fact that there is real fake news and indeed, it has always been a problem, referring to the Hitler Diaries and the MMR Controversy, although perhaps the volume of it had grown in recent years.  However, he stressed that the volume of all news that we receive has grown and so couldn’t be sure if the proportion of fake news had grown proportionately.

Fake News, for Nick though, is a distraction from what he sees as the real challenge, which is not so much that we don’t know who to trust anymore, but that we don’t care who we trust anymore. He said that as an audience, we are not looking for authoritative news stories but those which support our point of view – he said that we’ve all become propagandists and are happy to share information that supports our own politics and helps us signal our own virtue.  Nick believes we are less concerned than perhaps we used to be as to whether those stories are true or credible.

The issue of trust is something Nick said Edelman have looked at for 17 years across 30+ markets talking to thousands of people [see the Edelman Trust Barometer] and that the long terms story in that time has been the decline of traditional authority. He added that we do still care about truth, but no longer believe traditional authority sources, be that an MP, GP, Editor, or CEO.  Instead, we are increasingly trusting of people like ourselves, i.e. friends and family or an influencer that we identify with.  Nick doesn’t have too much of an issue with this though, as he says there is healthy scepticism in this as he doesn’t believe we should automatically trust authority as that leaves us vulnerable to exploitation, corruption and to being fooled. However, his concern is that over the last few years, we have tapped into an unhealthy cynicism, whereby we only trust our own side [of an argument] and are less and less receptive of the opposite point of view and so more inclined to share content that is narrative driven rather than fact driven.

When it comes to trust of brands, Nick confirmed the most trusted sources are those such as the Technical Experts because the audience believes those people are working for something other than profit, are dedicated to their particular field and are motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when these people talk, we imagine they have spent years and years studying their subject matter and are operating at the front line of an issue and we therefore trust their point of view.

Where he thinks Michael Gove was leading to, referring back to Gove’s comment during the Brexit campaign of having ‘had enough of experts’ (see clip below), was that many of the people who are put forward as experts on a topic by the media, political campaigners and sometimes by companies, such as Heads of Think Tanks or Super National Bodies, are not trusted by the public as credible experts, but instead viewed as elites, who are ideologically or politically driven and so don’t necessarily trust them to be independent experts on a topic.

In fact, Nick said that there is some evidence that this view is correct, as there have been studies over the years looking at the profile of an expert, how famous they are, and the accuracy of their predictions and he said that there is a direct inverse relationship between the accuracy of an experts predictions and how often they are on TV. This is why, according to Nick, ‘real’ experts are much more nuanced in their analysis and more guarded about the things they say but as a result, provide much less good copy!

This discussion lead to Nick saying that a lot of the reporting and content that creates problems for communications people is not necessarily a lie, as usually there is some basis in fact, but it is likely to be a set of facts presented in a very skewed or unreasonable way and so that’s what keeps the comms teams busy on the reactive side of their jobs, i.e., dealing with journalists who want to get to a certain story and will bend the facts to make them fit that story.  This is why, in Nick’s opinion, Media Relations, knowing how to craft a story and get your point of view across when your brand is being discussed and campaign on issues in an effective way, still matters and that there is still an art to it.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!