PR, journalism and fake news at Ad Week 2017

The BBC and Buzzfeed joined Weber Shandwick at an Advertising Week Europe event on Monday (20 March) in a session titled: “Navigating the New Abnormal: A Brand Survival Kit in a World of Fake News”.

From left to right: Jim Waterson, Danny Whatmough, Vivian Schiller and James Montgomery

The panel comprised Danny Whatmough, head of social, EMEA at Weber Shandwick, Vivian Schiller, editor-in-chief at Weber Shandwick, James Montgomery, director, digital development at BBC News and Jim Waterson, politics editor, UK at Buzzfeed and was chaired by Joey Jones, head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick. Speakers discussed the role that digital has played in the transformation of media, and explored how this has affected trust in both media and other brands.

Here are a few of the key points made by the journalists and PR professionals as they offered guidance for navigating the current news environment:

The website, as a primary destination, is over 
According to the panellists, consumers and audiences are no longer accessing content through owned-web pages. Montgomery said: “The cornerstone of the BBC’s brand is the fact that you can trust its news. But, trust in all brands and institutions is falling across the western world, and we are a part of that.

“One of the causes is the way that content is distributed across social media, and certainly one of the things that we talk about a lot at the moment is how to make sure that content consumed indirectly is attributed back to the BBC. We want readers to know that it’s BBC content they’re consuming, and that – therefore – they can trust it.”

This trend has implications for the monetisation of content.

Schiller added: “The only way, at the moment, for a publisher to make money by living exclusively on platforms other than its own is through branded content, whereby the publisher gets paid for impressions across any platform since the content itself is effectively advertising.”

If there’s no e-commerce element, argued the Weber Shandwick representatives, then there is no need for content to appear on a brand’s own page. It can live natively on other, more reachable or commonly accessed, platforms.

Not all fake news is equal
According to the Scale of Intent, originally published by First Draft News, fake news can range from the, relatively benign satire and parody, which has no intention to mislead (though it sometimes does), to entirely fabricated content, which is produced with deceptive intentions.

In between these two extremes are other iterations of fake news such as cases of manipulated content, where genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive, or false context, where genuine content is shared with false contextual information.

To Waterson, it is the middle-ground which is the most threatening in the UK.

He said: “When we were trying to do some research into fake news in the UK, as we looked into what’s been shared and what’s gone viral, we found it was often a story from a title such as the Daily Express, the Mail or The Independent, which had an incredibly partisan headline stretching facts to the absolute limit. That was our equivalent of fake news – the headline didn’t really stand-up to scrutiny.

“From a brand perspective, I’d have thought the main worry would be that one Tweet which gets re-Tweeted 5,000 times, which has a kernel of truth, which has a picture which is misdescribed, which gets aggregated by 10 sites before anyone has noticed what’s going on, and then a correction is put-out the following day, but no one is reading by that point.”

Apolitical is no longer an option for brands
Citing the Kelloggs and Breitbart example – where the food company chose to withdraw advertising from the news and opinion website, with social media backlash on both sides as a result – Whatmough said: “It’s a really interesting situation at the moment, where brands have to make choices.”

Whether they choose to advertise on certain platforms or not, brands are aligning themselves with certain ideologies or politics in ways which they haven’t always in the past, he explained.

Schiller agreed, she added: “Staying out is no longer an option. Things that were once ordinary are now being politicised. Something that, two years ago, would have been totally anodyne, is now a political statement. It’s very difficult to sit on the sidelines.”

  • View video from the entire panel session on the Advertising Week website here.


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