Today’s media landscape is unrecognisable from that of previous decades. The decline of investigate reporting and traditional newspapers, combined with the digital democratisation of news creation, and the consumerisation of media under the umbrella of “infotainment”, has cemented the postmodernist triumph of subjectivity over truth.
Newspaper sales and advertising revenues have been in year-on-year freefall since the 1990’s and, with modern editors increasingly dependent on ready-made content from PR offices, the business of news creation has morphed into an art-form in which only the most experienced, expert and ingenious can thrive. It may once have been said that a scoop was “something someone doesn’t want printed” but today, it is something that comes tailor-made, gift-wrapped, and with an agenda behind it.
Straitened economic circumstances and broader social changes have precipitated a commercialisation of news, with salacious gossip, sensationalism, snappy edits and celebrity columnists, replacing the deeper analysis and investigative reporting of old.
The fashion for instant news, spurred on by the rise of TV and the internet, means dramatic live reports have usurped investigative journalism and analysis, with the result that media content is increasingly reduced to instantaneous 24-hour bite-size chunks, purpose-built for the Twitter generation.
The “emotional striptease” of confessional journalism, human-interest stories, the blurring of the boundary between the public and private spheres and the personalisation of news, have created a media environment in which “the personal is political” and individual’s private actions can devastate organisational reputations. The rise of celebrity bloggers and star columnists, means impartial journalism and objective truth has been replaced with a plurality of competing opinions and interests.
The migration of news online has accelerated the rise of an infotainment culture that is rapidly dissolving the boundary between truth, opinion, entertainment and advertising. The internet enabled news to circumvent mainstream media organs, weakening the grip of traditional media conglomerates, allowing untrained online reporters to flood public discourse with opinion and rumour.
The resulting explosion in media choice created a vast array of portals through which the public can peer into each organisation, creating a new necessity for reputations to be managed, and messages synchronised, across myriad information channels. The rise of the Google algorithim as the principal filter on reality meant that ideas no longer gained mass attention and popular appeal through merit alone, but through “links”, AdWords, SEO merchants and communicative ingenuity.
The rise of User Generated Content and social-media platforms transform digitally empowered audiences into the new creators and mediators of truth, filtered through Twitter trends and Facebook groups. Audiences can interact with information, re Tweeting articles or commenting on blogs, offering an unparalleled opportunity for organisations to produce creative messages capable of harnessing the momentum of crowds and the “golden bullet” of peer advocacy to gain credibility and widespread publicity.
Apps have replaced “push media” and sealed off audience consciousness within a new “pull media” in which messages are compelled to earn the right to mass attention. The rapid convergence of media platforms allows an idea to travel seamlessly from the Facebook page to the TV studio and the newspaper headline, and means that creative and appealing messages are rewarded with rapid exposure. It also places reputations under more threat than ever before as, in the words of one famous journalist, a lie can now get halfway around the world “before the truth has got its boots on”.
Reputation is the hidden value underpinning every business success, yet it is the one asset which is rarely measured, watched or even understood.
Excellent reputations can win freedom from regulation, gain privileged access to new markets, attract talented executive recruits, boost employee morale, guarantee the endorsement of credible third-party organisations, increase the profile and credibility of the brand and enable businesses to recover, unscathed, from a crisis. It is commonly defined as the “sum of the images various stakeholders have of an organisation” formed by their evaluation of its performance, behaviour and communications.
Accurate evaluation of its fluctuations over time can make it possible for organisations to take the driving seat in pre-empting threats, harnessing emergent trends for organisational advantage, generating goodwill among constituents and turning risks into business opportunities. This helps maintain and measure a “dominant identity” which binds an organisation’s widespread communications together under the umbrella of a key set of intrinsic values.
At the core of reputation is the ancient philosophical concept of “ethos” or “trustworthiness”, the fundamental character of an organisation which conditions and pre-determines the audience’s perception of its communications. Organisational ethos is composed of three key criteria, credibility, transparency and accuracy, all of which can be chiselled and boosted by expert media relations.
“Transparency” can be enhanced by ensuring that any claims an organisation makes about their own services or products are backed with verifiable facts and examples, such as statistics or case studies, organisational information is readily-available to interested parties. “Accuracy” is established by displaying credible knowledge of the field, through reliable industry predictions which stand the test of time, positioning the organisation as an expert voice within a relevant field, carrying out trustworthy surveys with findings which illustrate broader industry trends or issues, and offering valuable insights into industry trends and issues.
“Credibility” can be built from the bottom up through a series of tried-and-tested formulas. Organisations can be positioning the organisation as an “expert voice” displaying independent and reliable measurements illustrating improvements a product or service has delivered: gaining and displaying credible, independent third-party endorsement from high profile “client wins” to certification by respected awarding bodies; establishing “mutual dwelling places”, such as Facebook groups, for two-way stakeholder dialogue, establishing partnerships with respected opinion-formers such as charities or reputable media outlets, and adopting recognised standards of conduct, such as compliance with voluntary codes of ethical practice.
About Jargon PR: Founded in 2008 by Simon Corbett, Jargon PR helps business-to-business technology companies differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing impactful, strategic communications council. Jargon PR places clients at the forefront of the media, raising awareness, communicating key corporate messages and generating interest in our client’s products and services to drive sales.
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