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Stuart had taken part in a panel at the event on the topic of retaining relevancy in an integrated world and one of the topics that came up was the authenticity of brands, and how this is spread across different channels. To highlight this, he talked about his own media diet during the first couple of hours of that morning, where he had already checked his social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, watched BBC News and had read the Metro newspaper on his commute. Stuart used the example of Lloyds Bank being a stand out story across three of those channels that particular morning.
Talking differently across channels can be a way of, as Stuart puts it, fooling people to think of the brand in a different way. It is not to say that brands can’t tweak their adverts, stories or news between channels. But he believes the challenge for brands, as in that situation with Lloyds, is how they need to be credible, relevant and ensuring the brand DNA authenticity remains across each of those channels.
Stuart calls communications the ‘conscious’ of the business as he feels it’s closer than any other department to the true feelings and understandings of the customers about the brand because the comms team has direct customer feedback relayed to them in real time every single day through journalists [and social media], who are very clear about what the customers are saying about the brand.
Stuart added that more and more, Communications is being trusted as a barometer of your customers’ feelings, and therefore being able to advise what actions need to be taken as a business to respond to that customer need by the CEO and Chairman. He therefore sees Communications has its place on the Board, where they can advise, not just on a communications issue in terms of how to speak/respond to a customer or journalist, but actually on what action the business needs to take, or even the money it needs to spend to resolve a problem.
He used the recent United Airlines case as an example where a lot has been written about how the initial response wasn’t very well handled, but since then, the company has come out and said it will never happen again and that ‘these are the things we are putting in place’, offering $10,000 to any customer who wants to put their hand up and leave the plane.
Another recent PR disaster to hit the headlines was the controversy over the recent Pepsi advert that was criticised for exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequently pulled.
Stuart’s assumption in this instance is that Pepsi is a very marketing led business, and therefore, he questions how much weight is put on the idea of the communications team being the conscious of the business and challenging the business ideas. He said it’s very easy, when you are within the ‘planet of your own brand’ to think everything you are producing is great and all the data tells you it’s going to work and its tapping into the zeitgeist, but it’s equally easy to get that so wrong if you don’t truly have that real time customer feedback.
[If anyone from Pepsi is reading this post or listening to the podcast and would like to respond about this campaign with an interview on the show, please get in touch.]
To emphasise the point of listening to your customer, Stuart drew on Nissan’s recent campaign to raise the profile of their X-Trail, where their aim was to tap back into peoples’ passions, looking beyond the product itself, and focus on how their customers used that particular model. As it turns out, one of the things they do, is use the car to stick the dog in the boot, take them down the park and give them a good run out!
Due to the fact that the communications team were given a very small budget of under 70,000 EURO, Stuart stated that they had to be ‘very agile creatively’ and can’t be ‘lazy’. They therefore came up with a concept to create a prototype of the car, specifically focusing on the needs of the dog and actually then produced it! They then made a three minute film with a completely natural launch, with no additional paid media around it.
As the campaign was focused on the feedback from customers and had tapped into the passions of dog lovers, it was natural that they were extremely interested and Stuar said the video has now received over 110 million views, globally. The prototype car is now being looked at to go into full production and it was recently showcased at the New York Auto Show.
However, one of the most important statistics for Stuart is that, since this campaign launched, the natural search online for the X-Trail is the highest it has ever been globally for five years.
Part Two – Interview starts at 11.22
In the second interview, Russell spoke with Olivia Lory Kay, Strategy Director at INITION about how Virtual Reality (VR) is filtering into the marketing mix and how it sits with other visual technologies such as immersive videos and augmented reality.
Olivia believes that there is a real appetite for experiential content but the PR industry does need to be careful of not creating fatigue due too many ‘me too’ campaigns, particularly in the 3rd sector. For example, following the success of ‘Clouds of Sidra’, she said that there have been a lot of other first person narrative examples, putting people into situations and allowing them to experience them in a first person point of view what it might be like to have been there. She therefore feels that to get the real value of immersive technology, you need to go back to basics and try to understand what communications objective you are looking for the technology to solve. Whilst the result may be to produce a first person 360 video, that wouldn’t be where to start.
An interesting aspect of producing immersive and VR content that Olivia talked about was the challenges for brands in this medium. These technologies bring with them a new way of interacting and new protocols of how people experience content, which are primarily voice, gesture, haptics (touch) and sensor reach such as gaze control. Similarly, with a 360 video, by definition, there is no one telling you what to look at next. However, she encourages brands to get involved and experiment on how best they can use these technologies for communications.
Part Three – Interview starts at 24min
In the final interview Russell was joined by 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.
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