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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

NOTW crisis: Can communicators re-spin their own approach to PR?

Media’s plummeting reputation places further importance on holistic reputation management

By Maita Soukup, Account Manager, ReputationInc

When reading through ReputationInc’s company credentials during my first week on board, a single sentence made me stop and take note. “PR and brand comms are all about talk, and being heard. Reputation management is about shaping the conversation.”

And what better way to be heard, than through the national press? Who among us isn’t familiar with the scene of a few PR agency folks sitting around a boardroom earnestly defending heavy retainers in pure column inches, usually replete with their key prop - the coverage book*.

But, with the popular press suffering an all-time low in public confidence, how much are those column inches worth? What does independent editorial endorsement mean, if the public has lost its faith in the fourth estate? Where does this leave those communicators who (through either strategy or proximity), have come to see the media as their primary stakeholder?

The NOTW scandal has further blurred the ethical lines that are meant to divide government, media, and business interests, and the public seems increasingly unwilling to buy any of it. The tabloid press in general, and its News International titles in particular, are certain to suffer the worst from the full revelations of the phone-hacking scandal. And while titles like the Guardian and the New York Times have emerged as the champions of truth and ethical journalism, bad impressions last long and reach far. Any reason for increased scepticism over media information-gathering tactics seems will live long in the public's minds.

To survive through the current public mood, communicators can simply no longer rely on good relationships with editors and their hacks to somehow safeguard their public reputation. Maintaining these relationships is still business critical, but businesses seeking to build or alter their public perception would be wise to cast their net further, and new relationships outside of the popular press.

Consider for a moment taking just half of the strategic importance some organisations put into building media relationships, and diverting that focus to other important stakeholders; like community groups, industry coalitions, employees, to regulators, bloggers, or academics (just to name a few).

Shaping conversations with all those public forums that intersect with a business's wider goals is certainly more nuanced, and perhaps more complex than courting media. However, it is ultimately more rewarding. Communicators should seize this opportunity to re-focus away from traditional media and instead innovate new routes for transparent and honest engagement with their wider constituencies.

* As satisfying as it is to relish in one’s media successes, come on communicators, deep down we all know today’s survey story or brilliant photo stunt is tomorrow’s chip wrapping.

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