What does the rise of fake news mean for brands?

Marketing website The Drum recently ran an article accurately (ahem), concluding that "fake news spread could be just what brands need". Inspired by a Forbes headline, the argument is that the rise of fake news presents a huge opportunity to both brands and media partners to rise above, establish new standards and becoming shining beacons.

For the media, this means focusing on doing the job properly, attracting readers through telling the truth. For brands, it means putting an emphasis on allocating ad spend to and forging partnerships with "worthy outlets". With this in mind we contacted Rick Guttridge, MD at Smoking Gun PR, to get his take on what impact fake news could have on the future of brand storytelling.

Hey Rick. First up, how important is editorial for brand storytelling in general? 

Rick: The rise and rise of owned media, brand’s own websites, blogs, social media etcetera, where they gave unfettered editorial control to convey their messaging has somewhat diminished the reliance on traditional media outlets to carry messaging.

That said, the inherent brand trust and implicit endorsement from a positive piece of editorial media coverage, particularly those with a great reach towards the target audience, remains a vital and trusted part of the mix. This is still the backbone for many brand storytelling campaigns, with the enlightened mixing this up in ratio with the owned and paid media opportunities for maximum impact.

A third core element is niche online sites that rank well in Google for keywords relevant to your business. A good placement here can work wonders for reputation. With the rise of fake news and the current backlash against it - see Facebook's new unit to deal with the problem - this should play a part in pushing the importance of editorially robust and trusted news sources again.

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In your opinion, how detrimental to PR and marketing is the trend for fake news? 

The PR industry has been battling to 'grow up', earn more trust, and act in a more authentic and transparent manner for some time. Public trust in media organisations has taken a battering in recent years, with the FT recently citing it as being at an all time low.

The fake news phenomena is a potential nightmare for brands who find themselves on the wrong end of misinformation and facing a reputational battle. It is generally unhelpful and an unwanted distraction for 'comms' professionals, although the reality is it does create a business opportunity in helping clients deal with the fall out.

Read: How will technology affect storytellers

Do you think brands have a responsibility to avoid advertising with fake news sites, and how can this be done without causing an enormous amounts of legwork?

No brand should willingly advertise on any fake news sites, however then problem lies in ad placement networks where the client doesn’t actually know where all the placements have appeared. It’s down to the brands and either their media buying agency or direct ad platforms to agree a code and level of quality of what constitutes a suitable site to appear on. The reputation risks are great if adverts start appearing on fake or extreme news sites.

Finally, then, how can brands look to better forge relationships with respected news providers, and in turn help support and draw readers into legitimate sources? 

Speak to them! Maintain a dialogue to see what stories and what content formats they use, how they want stories delivering, and what is currently on the agenda for those titles. Giving them more of what they need and want for their media organisation can only be a good thing. News desks and teams are ever shrinking, so the brands that can help fill pages with relevant, quality, and timely stories will always thrive in this sphere. Brands also need to act authentically and transparently with the media in order to cantina mutual trust and understanding.

So what can brands glean from all this? First of all, clearly the responsibility lies with different parties when it comes to stopping or at least reversing the spread of fake news. On the one hand, readers themselves should be aware of telltale signs that a site is not what it professes to be.

Second to this, editorial must focus on the provision of genuine facts, which isn’t to say it doesn’t already, but the stakes are obviously higher than ever. And, finally, both brands and their advertising partners - be that programmatic or manual - must be vigilant when it comes to where they are buying space. Put simply, then, what does fake news mean for brand storytelling? Potentially greater and stronger media relationships than ever before, if they understand what can and must be done.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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