Inside the Profession

Friday Five: You Can’t Fool the Internet

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Remember when an “internal memo” was truly internal? I don’t. We live in an age when we should assume that nothing is private and everything we produce has the potential to go public. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign may have learned that the hard way this week with a casting call, making one of the first decisions of the campaign look foolish.

In this week’s Friday Five – PRSA’s take on the week’s biggest news stories – we’ll discuss the mishap by “The Donald” and share four other PR lessons we learned this week.

Here’s What We Learned This Week:

1) The Brian Williams Reputation Recovery Has Begun

Although Brian Williams six month suspension isn’t scheduled to end until August, NBC has started rebuilding Williams’s reputation beginning with this morning’s Today show interview with Matt Lauer. Though he will not be returning as anchor of NBC Nightly News, he will be returning to NBC as a part of its 24-hour news channel MSNBC. During his Today interview, Williams alluded to other “lies” or “exaggerations” that he may have told.

It was clear that Williams chose his words carefully in his interview with Lauer, which will likely cause more speculation and controversy. Will Williams’s role at MSNBC, as opposed to NBC, allow him to become a cable news “personality” rather than a news journalist? From his night show interviews, it is clear that he fits that role well. His reputation as a journalist, though, may never recover if he continues to appear deceptive by picking his words cautiously rather than speaking openly.

2) If You Pay People to Support You, the Internet Will Out You

As Donald Trump once again throws his hat into the race for the White House, the craziness has already begun. The first accusation: The Hollywood Reporter dishes that Trump paid $50 for each of the “supporters” who attended his announcement event.

PRNewer reported that Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told MSNBC, “Mr. Trump draws record crowds at almost every venue where he is a featured speaker. The crowds are large, often record setting, and enthusiastic, with consistent standing ovations.” While that doesn’t confirm or deny anything, Lewandowski is right about one thing—Trump could have drawn a large crowd without a casting call. It was foolish for his team to deceive the public (if accusations are actually true) because in the internet age, you can virtually guarantee that somebody will out you and further damage your reputation.

3) Common Sense is Needed Following a Tragedy

As communication professionals we need to be aware of what’s happening in the world. Sometimes our decisions may not be intentionally insensitive, but the intention really doesn’t matter when feelings are hurt. Prior to publishing work on behalf of our organizations, it behooves us to have others review our work. And, if you’re the one reviewing the work, it’s important to speak up if something doesn’t look right.

I can’t imagine anyone who saw the The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina truly thought it was a good idea to keep an adhesive ad promoting a gun range on the front page next to the story about the nine people killed in the church shooting this week. Somebody at the paper, whether it was an editor, the ad department who arranged for the sticker or the person overseeing the paper’s assembly, should have “stopped the presses.”

4) Consumers are Liquid

How do you watch TV? I watch TV with my laptop open and my iPhone in my hand. I am apparently not alone. As AdWeek’s Randall Rothenberg states, “Today’s consumers are ‘liquid,’ meaning they are no longer grounded in one spot, medium or homepage.”

There was a time not too long ago that companies simply tried to bring consumers to their own online properties or view their programming on their own channels. However, the way we consume the media is rapidly changing and the more we multi-task devices and channels, the more we have to expand our thinking on where we want our target audiences to convene. We often talk about reaching the public “where they are” and while that notion still makes sense, how should we proceed when the fact is that they are constantly on the move?

5) Native Advertising Deceives the Public

Thinking about adding native advertising to your communication mix? Take this into consideration: approximately a third of news consumers feel deceived or disappointed by sponsored content or native advertising. According to the 2015 Digital News Report, issued by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, media consumers think less of publications that use native ads.

Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin points out that the level of deception depends on the age of the consumer, with younger people less likely to feel deceived. Nonetheless, as public relations professionals, we must remember our duty to act ethically in these situations and be fully transparent in our communication.

(Editor’s note: view Ethical Standard Advisory 19 for more details on ethical implementation of native advertising.)

About the author

Rosanne Mottola, APR

Rosanne Mottola, APR, is public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America. She is an adjunct professor of public relations at St. John’s University, Staten Island. Mottola obtained a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from New York University in 2010. You can connect with her on Twitter @RoeMoPR or on LinkedIn.

1 Comment

  • Excellent post. I have to pay more attention to Friday Five.
    Yes, the Internet “puts our business in the streets” in a whole new way, potentially jeopardizing any number of situations — e.g., job searches, business relationships, and employee communications — but watching what we day is an age-old challenge and never more so then in professional public relations.
    Years ago, well before the Internet, email and cellphones, I was at a company board meeting where the CEO was fired in absentia. After the decision, I asked everyone to keep the matter in confidence until the CEO had been informed and we could discuss appropriate follow-up for all concerned. One highly influential board member interrupted to say, “Don, I trust everyone will do as you ask, but in my experience there are no secrets when there are more than two people in the conversation. This will probably be public news before we leave the building.” I
    was disappointed by his response, but I knew I had just learned a valuable lesson. The man had spent more than 20 years in a sensitive CIA post in Europe.
    How did I find out he had been in the CIA? Years earlier, one of his closest friends told me over drinks. He actually put his finger to his lips and said in a low voice, “Only a few people know this, but BLANK is a CIA agent.”
    Of course, we can’t become paranoid about this stuff, not if we want to continue living in a free country, but we can at least think twice, maybe three times, before we say or do something on the Internet that could make us look foolish or worse.

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