PR: Sticking to the Facts in the Era of “Fake News”

by Sarah Hill
June 13, 2018 • 3 minute read

Let’s look at the crystal ball for a minute. What does the future of agricultural marketing hold? That’s a million-dollar answer.

While no one knows what the future holds, there are a few overarching principles that we can always count on—transparency, relying on the facts, solid writing and good storytelling. That is where good public relations comes in.

Transparency Needed Now, More Than Ever

Many PR professionals have deep roots in journalism. Maybe we ended up in PR because editorial jobs were scarce. Maybe we connected with our organization’s mission. Maybe we were linked to our position through a professional connection. Whatever the reason, .

PR is about building long-term relationships with editors, stakeholders, consumers and the public. Strong, lasting relationships—and brand loyalty—are not built on lies.

We are all told to never, ever lie on a resume when applying for a job. That should not change once we’ve landed the position—no matter if it’s junior copywriter, seasoned PR professional or CEO.

There are many ways to tell a good story, and all of them are anchored in truth and facts.

Can PR Win Against “Fake News”?

Good PR fights an uphill battle of not being as provocative as bad news and “fake news.”

A recent article in Forbes shared results from the 2018 State of the Media Report, published by PR software company Cision. The survey asked journalists from all media sectors, including print, digital, broadcast, social media and blogging from six North American and European countries, about trust in the media. Seventy-one percent of the 1,355 respondents indicated that they believe the public has lost trust in journalists. The report also found that 75 percent of respondents believed that being 100 percent accurate is more important than scooping a story first.

Fifty-nine percent of U.S. respondents in the report said that “fake news” is a problem because it makes readers more skeptical about all content.

A recent article in Science News magazine shared the results of an analysis of 4.5 million tweets and retweets from 2006 to 2017. Of those millions of tweets, falsehoods were 70 percent more likely to be shared and spread faster on Twitter than true stories. True news stories never spread to more than about 1,600 people and took six times as long to reach those people.

Why are we so drawn to untruths? Is it because they’re usually more sensational than the honest truth? Our culture loves to knock people, celebrities or companies off their pedestal—even if those people, celebrities or companies didn’t ask to be put on a pedestal in the first place. Unfortunately, even companies in the agriculture industry—long known to be one of the most trusted industries—are not immune to this pattern.

An Old, Standby Tactic Still Works

The latest Agri-Marketers’ Confidence Index (AMCI) conducted in April by Connectiv’s Agri-Media Committee and Agri Marketing magazine among more than 200 U.S. and Canadian corporate agribusiness managers in the crop and livestock sectors found that 86 percent of respondents reported that their organization’s marketing communications budgets will be increasing or remaining the same.

What does that mean for agricultural marketers? It means that we may have more dollars to spend in the marketing bucket, but we still have to connect with editors in a meaningful way. What PR tactics are best for making that connection?

The answer is the good old-fashioned press release. In the Cision report, 63 percent of respondents said that the press release is still the most trusted form of communication from PR professionals. The press release beat out corporate websites, social media, blogs and even spokespeople for the most trustworthy, accurate news source.

Ethics Matter

One of my favorite quotes is from Elvis Presley, of all people. He said, “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”

Ethics are important. They may seem touchy-feely, but earning trust and respect for our companies and clients hinges on telling the truth and acting with integrity—always.

How do we do that? Be transparent and accurate. Verify facts and sources to back up PR statements. Remain humble. Don’t spread “fake news” or other information that’s not been factually double-checked.

Of course, we are all human, and mistakes do sometimes happen. If you discover a mistake, speak up and correct it as soon as possible.

That crystal ball may not always get it right when it comes to the dynamic agriculture industry, but we can always strive to do the right thing.

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