I recently read in an advertising column that the two major trends for marketing are “authenticity” and “transparency.” I scratched my head and thought, “Trends?” This is why many brands are failing, built upon a version of marketing leadership that drives disregard for institutions, government and capitalism itself.
Authenticity and transparency are not “trends” measurable in impressions or clicks or acquisition cost. They are evergreen values earned through permission to do business with consumers and stakeholders.
This is why companies, brands and organizations should double or triple their investments in people and agencies that understand the concept of earning — not buying — public permission. Instead, PR budgets are being squeezed and reduced to compete with other marketing disciplines.
Hurricanes, fires, shootings, data breaches, sexual harassment scandals and fake news permeate our headlines. Now more than ever, brands need to invest in long-term reputation management to guide them and help them earn permission for whatever they want to do or sell or be.
Yet, few are thinking long-term or getting rewarded when it comes to reputation. Most brand managers and CMOs vacate their posts within 18 months, and companies are more focused on sales within the coming three months. This fairy-tale, short-term thinking ultimately will lead to more distrust from the public.
A report we completed in 2016 found that earned media trumps paid channels by a landslide: People trust in-person speeches, corporate announcements and interviews far more than advertising (28 to 42% more). So why are PR and earned reputation management being devalued when they are needed more than ever? Partly because PR is not measurable in traditional advertising speak. It is easier to submit a spreadsheet that reports cost per acquisition than to quantify the avoided negative news story, for example.
It was not measurable or predictable for the NFL and its advertisers to know what would happen when players began kneeling during the national anthem. It was not measurable or predictable when an Equifax breach resulted in jeopardized data for millions of Americans. And, it was not measurable or predictable that Las Vegas and its casinos would be searching for ways to make the public feel safe again.
Reputation is measured in whether your brand has the public permission to survive and thrive in a world of uncertainty, disruption and, unfortunately, crisis. Here are several ideas for the C-suite to consider when it comes to reputation and allocating resources toward public relations:
Earned public permission comes in many forms: media, dialogue, thought leadership, employee morale and culture, regulatory permission, influence. Meanwhile, public distrust is real. How will your brand and product survive and thrive? A few clicks or a 15-second social media endorsement likely will not suffice.
Businesspeople need to reconsider authenticity and transparency as trends, and instead figure out how to put more time, money and people towards earning reputation.