Not so fake news: How foreign powers use PR to influence western politics

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 10.39.27.png

By James Le Grice, Four Communications

Fans of Cold War spy thrillers have had their fix lately. Allegations that Russia hacked the US Democratic Party and diffused fake news to influence the US and French elections, and alleged attempts by the White House to set up a secret line to the Kremlin and obstruct an FBI investigation read right out of a John le Carre novel.

It is hardly news that Russia seeks to influence western politics – this has been the case for decades – but tactics have moved on with the times. Many of the most effective tactics today are less the stuff of conspiracy theorists and more akin to a PR handbook.

The Foreign Policy Centre’s (FPC) latest report, The Information Battle: How governments in the former Soviet Union promote their agendas & attack their opponents abroad is a good primer on this. The report describes the Kremlin’s propaganda strategy of ‘muddying the waters’ in western political discourse, sewing confusion with an ultimate aim of steering opinions towards the positions of the Russian government.

This is primarily achieved not through fake news, but through genuine – albeit selective – news transmitted through state run channels, such as Sputnik and RT. Editorial selection on these outlets gives prominence to stories that depict the West in decay (eg stories on corruption, police brutality, and foreign policy failures) while portraying Russia rising from strength to strength. Language is also carefully crafted, being strategically selective about when ‘rebels’ are ‘terrorists’, when a ‘protest’ is a ‘riot’, and when a ’revolution’ is a ‘coup’.

These outlets also give platforms to figures on the fringes of Western politics, such as ex British MP George Galloway, who would otherwise struggle to have their views covered in the mainstream media. As such, they have carved out a loyal following in the West from those seeking alternative views to what is presented in both left and right wing mainstream media.

However, outlets such as RT and Sputnik have limited credibility given that they are state-run. As Jean-Louis Gassee, Founder of BeOS once said, ‘PR is getting someone else to say you’re good.’ The FPC’s report describes how many central Asian regimes mobilise key opinion leaders in the West to echo their messaging points, in particular around elections. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have all been strongly criticised by legitimate international election monitoring bodies for flawed polls. In recent years, they have sought to limit scrutiny by inviting sympathetic western politicians and academics to act as independent election observers, giving positive comments to the media, while placing severe restrictions on the work of official monitoring bodies such as the OSCE’s ODIHR.

Russia and many central Asian regimes also regularly establish or provide funding for NGOs and think tanks in Europe that put out ‘independent’ policy reports in line with regime positions. In Britain, some provide support to All-Party Parliamentary Groups (cross-party groups of MPs and Lords whose work can be funded by non-Parliamentary sources) focused on their countries, gaining advocates able to speak for their interests in Parliamentary debates.

Finally, the FPC notes that Russia and other former Soviet states have a strong understanding of brand, and regularly use the hosting of international sport and cultural events for their brand promotion. For example, the Azerbaijan government used its hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest to showcase its newfound petroleum wealth, portraying Baku as a Caspian Dubai, and create a smokescreen for ongoing human rights violations.  Azerbaijan has gone on to host several other international events since then including the 2015 European Games, the 2016 European Grand Prix and the 2016 World Sailing Championships to enhance its brand.

While fake news and cyber-attacks get all the attention, it is important that PR and public affairs practitioners remain conscious of the way Russia and other foreign powers use proven PR tactics to influence western politics. Shaping opinions is a subtle art and as such the most strategically effective tactics slip beneath the headlines.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Digitalis Reputation COO Charlie Bain will be speaking on crisis communications at CIPR International’s first conference – Global PRactice – on 5 May 2017.

Here, to whet our appetites, he discusses the importance of managing online reputation and pre-empting digital vulnerabilities well ahead of crisis scenarios._GET9560_x

The former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward once said: “The more you’ve thought about challenges in advance, the more you can sail through them when they happen.” This is never more applicable when it comes to crisis communications and highly prescient in the digital age.

We’ve reached an important inflexion point when it comes to the amount of information which intentionally or unintentionally ends up on the web. The arcane nature of the challenges this poses to reputation management professionals will dominate and radically re-shape the industry in the years to come. And just like most things tech – it won’t be a gradual change – it will be disruptive, it will be fast and it will redefine the comms skillset.

Sharing our business or personal lives via social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter in particular – is now an unstoppable train. It is entirely normal and in some cases necessary. Whereas ten years ago, even five years ago, it would have proved unthinkable. While we and our friends or colleagues project every aspect of our lives online, an uncontrolled narrative is created. As more and more historical paper archives about our lives get digitalised, so the picture grows. Before we know it, there is a wealth of information about us in the digital stratosphere, some we may be aware of because we posted it ourselves, but most often not.

So what –  might you say?  My personal online profiles are very much private and separate from my corporate digital footprint. But are they really?

Then the crisis occurs.

The historical, irrelevant comments made in an interview by the CEO suddenly become very relevant, indeed. A run of the mill Twitter posting from two years ago is suddenly picked through for nuance.  Worst of all, you unexpectedly and bafflingly find the CEO’s daughter or son’s Facebook picture of the family holiday on their personal yacht in Ibiza plastered on the cover of the Daily Mail. A perfectly engineered story about them – with their help – is constructed in seconds. And you, as the comms adviser, can only helplessly watch it unfold.

And this is where the inflexion point has occurred. Hostile third parties, criminals or cyber hackers and dare I say it, often journalists, can skilfully and efficiently navigate through the wealth of information online – a precious digital library at their fingertips. Yet we continue to share…

The answer isn’t to ban social media, call a halt to any interviews or live the life of a hermit. However, it does mean that for those of us reputation management advisers, it is imperative to be continually aware and possess the technological weapons and intelligence to manage the digital footprint and therewith digital vulnerabilities of your clients. It goes beyond vanilla social media and traditional monitoring and directly into the “unknown” area of deep web trawling, information extraction and big data analysis.

That is where the evolution for crisis communications and risk management is taking us –  fully pre-empting your client’s digital vulnerability, on a personal and professional level, on the indexed and unindexed web, a long way before the crisis hits.

Digital reputation mitigation is earning its place at the Board table now that the biggest issue in the board room is online risk (PWC report cybersecurity) and reputational damage is the second biggest threat (2017 Deloitte report).

Some say you have ten minutes to respond to a crisis and control it in the social media age. With an in-depth understanding of your client’s digital vulnerabilities and strengths, as Sir Clive Woodward might say, “when the waters get choppy you will be able …to sail through them far more confidently”.

Charlie Bain is the Chief Operating Officer of Digitalis Reputation, tech-powered online reputation and digital intelligence firm.

Leave a comment

Filed under CIPR International

Advertising Equivalent Value (AVE) – What is it?

“This post first appeared on Stephen Waddington’s blog (http://wadds.co.uk). As we think it is extremely relevant globally we asked his permission to reprint it here,” says past Chair of CIPR International Eva Maclaine. “I have just finished judging one of the CIPR Excellence Award categories. Under our rules if the entry includes AVEs this results, quite rightly, in a score of zero for the measurement section. This comprehensive guide is a must-read for PR professionals around the world.”

Stephen Waddington

Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) festers as a public relations metric. It’s changing but slowly. Here’s what a best practice measurement approach looks like.

“Worked in media measurement for all his life, achieved nothing. That’ll be on my tombstone,” joked Richard Bagnall.

We’d met for lunch and were talking about the ongoing need for education to drive up standards in public relations measurement.

It was a throw away comment but it’s rooted in a truth that a measurement approach which is proven to be flawed continues to have a stronghold on public relations.

Bagnall is the chair of the Association of Media and Evaluation Companies (AMEC) and the European boss of Prime Research. Alongside CEO Barry Leggetter he’s at the forefront of driving new measurement standards in organisational communication.

AMEC’s own data suggests that around 20% of organisations worldwide still use Advertising Equivalent Value (AVE). A PRCA survey recently put the figure at a third of organisations in the UK.

What is AVE?

AVE attributes an ad value to earned media content secured by a public relations practitioner.

An arbitrary multiplier is often applied, justified on the basis that editorial content has greater credibility and is valued more by consumers than ad space.

It’s an entirely flawed approach.

In addition to AMEC it has been denounced by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), Institute for Public Relations (IPR), Public Relations Communications Association (PRCA) and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and others.

AVEs have no relation to a campaign’s objectives, messages, or sentiment, let alone organisational outcomes but that doesn’t stop them continuing to be used as a public relations metric.

Online monitoring firm Meltwater published a white paper written by public relations practitioner and Forbes contributor Robert Wynn last year promoting the use of AVEs as a valid metric. It was widely decried throughout the public relations profession worldwide.

The white paper has subsequently been deleted from Meltwater’s website.

Barcelona Principles

AMEC’s annual conference in Barcelona in 2010 set out the Barcelona Principles, a series of a set of seven guidelines industry to measure the efficacy of public relations. They were updated in 2015.

  1. Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations
  2. Measuring communication outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs 
  3. The effect on organisational performance can and should be measured where possible
  4. Measurement and evaluation require both qualitative and quantitative methods 
  5. AVEs are not the value of communications 
  6. Social media can and should be measured consistently with other media channels 
  7. Measurement and evaluation should be transparent, consistent and valid 

The public relations profession has spent the subsequent seven years rallying behind AMEC’s initiative.

Measure organisational performance, not media

The public relations measurement business has been built on traditional media metrics based on content evaluation. At best these are poor proxies for performance.

Metrics such as AVE, reach or impressions have no relationship to any metric that a business would recognise. They use an entirely different set of criteria based on outtakes and outcomes.

As practice shifts from traditional media as the primary form of public relations engagement, to a variety of digital and social media, the industry is getting smarter at measurement but progress is slow. Paid, earned, owned and share media all leave an audit trail that can be interrogated.

Our opportunity is to define robust objectives, outputs, and outcomes for a campaign, and then to overlay AMEC’s Barcelona Principles and measurement framework.

Integrated Evaluation Framework

In 2016 AMEC brought together academics, measurement experts, public relations practitioners and organisations to create an Integrated Evaluation Framework that would work across all integrated communications.
  The Framework shows how to implement Barcelona Principles 2.0, linking organisational objectives to communication objectives, to outputs, outtakes, outcomes and organisational impact.

  • Objectives – Like all good measurement, it should start with clear organisational objectives. These can come in many different forms, whether they be awareness, advocacy, adoption or demand related. Following on from organisational objectives, is communication objectives. These should reflect and mirror the organisational objectives.
     
  • Inputs – This covers two important areas: first, to define the target audiences of the campaign; and second, the strategic plan and other inputs such as describing some of the situation analysis, resources required and budgets.
     
  • Activities – This section is outlining what activities were carried out, any testing or research, content production etc. Importantly, the tool recognises the importance of paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) and gives users the ability to tag accordingly.
     
  • Outputs – In outputs, this covers the core measures across Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) media. For example what was the reach of the paid advertising, how many visitors to the website, how many posts, tweets or retweets, how many people attended the event, and how many potential readers of the media coverage. This is quantitative and qualitative measures of outputs.
     
  • Outtakes – this refers to the response and reactions of your target audiences to the activity. How attentive were they to the content, what was their recall, how well understood is the topic, did the audience engage with the content or did the audience subscribe to more information.
     
  • Outcomes – measure the effect of the communications on a public. Have the target audience increased understanding, has it changed their attitude to the topic, has it increased trust and/or preference, has it had an impact on the intention to do something (e.g. trial, subscribe, register) or increased online advocacy.
     
  • Impact – This final section is where impact on the organisational objectives is evaluated. So here the tool is looking to cover reputation improvement, relationships improved or established, increase in sales or donations, change in policy, or improved social change. This is a clear demonstration of business outcome and link to organisational objectives.
     

The Integrated Evaluation Framework was launched last year with a comprehensive website of resource material and an interactive tool, supported by Lewis PR, to steer practitioners through the process. The framework has become a standard at Ketchum.

Every conversation around measurement within the business is framed around the Integrated Measurement Framework.

Best practice from the UK Government Communication Service

In the UK the Government Communication Service (GCS) has published an online measurement toolkit and case studies that are available for anyone to download.
 GCS has adapted the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework for use within government. The toolkit contains a planning model and measurement framework for media, digital, marketing, stakeholder engagement and internal communication.

The most useful area of the toolkit is a series of case studies. Each one is a worked example of a government campaign using the GCS measurement framework.

You’ll find example measurement frameworks reviewing campaigns on exporting, plastic bag charging, maternity safety, local road maintenance and energy switching.

The leadership of GCS under the direction of its executive director for communications Alex Aitken and its Evaluation Council in openly sharing its framework should be applauded.

Anyone working in public relations should study the toolkit as an example of best practice.

Tackling the supply chain

“The public relations and communications industry has made enormous progress in eliminating AVEs over recent years, much of it in partnership with AMEC’s strong leadership,” said Francis Ingham, director general, PRCA.

My personal view is that monitoring companies such as Cision, Gorkana, Kantar Media, Meltwater, and Vuelio could accelerate progress if they were prepared to stop supplying AVE metrics as a default metric within reports, alongside other metrics.

Agencies such as my own firm Ketchum teach practitioners that AVEs are flawed and have no place in a modern public relations campaign or planning process. Teachers on public relations courses at colleges and universities do the same.

But then monitoring vendors provide web based solutions that calculate AVE data as a default.

Measurement companies universally argue that they only supply AVE data because clients demand it and that if they didn’t supply it, another monitoring vendor would.

AMEC and the CIPR take a similar stance saying that the market needs to solve the issue rather than laying the blame on an area of the supply chain.

“Measurement and monitoring firms are merely responding to market demand. The problem is the lack of professionalism among residual groups within the industry who have failed to move on from AVEs,” said Jason MacKenzie, President, CIPR.

“We all know that peddling AVEs is like selling a fairy story. AVEs belong in the dustbin of history: their continued use damages the reputation of public relations.”

Francis Ingham at the PRCA goes further.

“If measurement and evaluation companies stopped providing AVEs it would kill them overnight. I hope that they will rise to the challenge and do so.”

Postscript

I’m going to end this story where I started with Richard Bagnall.

He was clearly exaggerating to make a point when he said that he had achieved nothing in his career. But the point about the slow death of AVE’s is real. He has been actively campaigning against them for 21 years.

Good progress has been made in the past seven years. Agencies such as Lewis and Ketchum; and communication teams such as the UK Government Communication Service are committed to new forms of measurement.

Shifting the final 20% of the market is going to require a concerted effort by everyone in the communications and public relations business.

“The educational battle will take time, but as our numbers show, it is being won,” adds Bagnall.

It may not take a lifetime but it will likely take a generation. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Donald Steel is the keynote speaker for the Crisis session at CIPR International’s Global Practice conference on 5 May 2017. Here he gives us a glimpse of his approach.

steel

Donald Steel is an international responder, trainer and speaker in crisis communications.  He works with clients in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Australasia.   He is also a Director of Crisis Communications at Kenyon International Emergency Services, the world’s leading commercial responder to incidents involving death or injury.  He is also a director of the leading UK aviation PR company Johnston Associates, based at London Heathrow. He was formerly for 11 years the BBC’s Head of Press.

 

 

There is no such thing as a social media crisis.

There, I’ve said it.

Theword “crisis” is one of the most overused words in the English language.It’s usual use is to make a story or issue seem more important than it is. I remember, at the BBC, tabloid newspapers saying the BBC was “in crisis” over the costumes on Strictly Come Dancing. It was a fun story, but I don’t recall the magnificent Head of Entertainment Publicity, Kate Toft, activating the crisis team and asking them to bring their sewing machines.

The word “crisis” has only one use within an organisation. When a situation meets carefully pre-set criteria, it is the signal to active your rehearsed crisis plan. It has no other use.

I believe big changes that are happening in crisis communication have less to do with social media than the devices we all have in our pocket. The cameraphone. The camera is so important to consumers, that improvements in it are the chief selling point when Apple brings out a new iPhone (I can recommend the camera on the iPhone7).  Consumers are addicted to the camera.

Over the past few years, it is now the norm for news to break within sixty seconds of a catastrophe with pictures and video. The words are often little more than a caption.

The cameraphone is changing human behaviour. The instinct to record what you see is now so strong, that people now view the world through the lens on their phone.  It’s a narrow field of vision. It is such a powerful instinct that, in terrorist attacks, people place themselves in great danger by staying to record it, such as in the recent St Petersburg underground attack.

Stories are now being told – and received – in pictures, not words.

When Fusilier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered on a South London street in 2013, passers-by placed themselves in extraordinary danger as they stood and filmed the horrific event. It was instinctive. It was what the terrorists wanted. They wished to spread their terror via the cameraphone. It was unsuccessful.

The public now view the world through the lens of their phone, whether it is what they eat or what they see. The certainty of major events being seen through the lens of a mobile phone rather than through the words people write is an unstoppable trend.

As I travel round the world talking to clients about crisis preparation, they are rightly concerned about saying the right thing.As pictures begin to dominate how stories are told, are we changing our crisis communications plan so that we communicate in an emergency through pictures? I don’t just mean a video statement from the CEO.

The challenge of portraying our crisis response in pictures in significant. It requires planning and thought. If we do not meet this challenge, we risk losing control of our narrative when trouble hits.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

CIPR? It’s PRSA in London (International Public Relations Study Abroad Program, Winter 2017 )

CIPR Mason students

CIPR International recently hosted a group of U.S. students from George Mason University who visited  London studying international public relations.  Immediate past chair Eva Maclaine of CIPR International and principal of Maclaine Communications and Digitalis’ Beatrice Giribaldi provided an overview of the challenges of managing PR in a global, intercultural environment.  The students went on to meet with Edelman, Ketchum, H+K Strategies, Ogilvy and other organisations on their 16-day immersion in communication practices.  Here’s what Cyrenna Cooper from George Mason University wrote in her journal about the CIPR session.

Following our visit with Bell Pottinger, we visited the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) at their offices in Russell Square.  We met with CIPR International’s immediate past chair, Eva Maclaine, and Beatrice Giribaldi, group secretary of CIPR International. According to Giribaldi, CIPR has been an opportunity of continuous professional development. She’s enjoyed the chance to work with other PR practitioners, while acquiring leadership and teamwork skills.

Beatrice Giribaldi joined Eva Maclaine at CIPR headquarters to present an introduction to international public relations for U.S. students from George Mason University

Maclaine, an accomplished PR professional, presented “Communicating Globally.” One of her messages that I thought was important was what is needed to succeed. This acronym is called Rosie…

Rosie w bckgrnd2(1)

  • R-research
  • O-objectives
  • S- strategy
  • I- implementation
  • E-evaluation

According to Maclaine, in order to be successful in communicating globally one must have:

  • social media with strategic purpose
  • cross-cultural competencies
  • ability to manage high volumes of information
  • an understanding of management
  • business qualifications

While it is important to have all forms of communication in PR, it is even more significant to choose your channels wisely, according to your audience. Eva, for example, worked with a smaller country (Samoa) to inform them about new water costs. She would not communicate this information to them through social media, but in person. While there are a numerous steps to achieving success in global communication, there are multiple reasons for failure. Some common reasons for failure in global communication are:

  • arrogance
  • ignorance
  • stubbornness
  • lack of local alliances

From our CIPR visit my takeaways on global communication were

  • to be curious
  • don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • learn a language
  • choose your channels wisely
  • avoid the pitfalls
  • have cultural intelligence
  • most importantly…research, research, research!

Final thoughts:   Reflecting back, the 16 days spent in London have been some of the best days of my life.  I will always remember these tidbits of knowledge that were spoken to us at the PR agency meetings as well as Northrop Grumman, Selfridges and Wimbledon. I will cherish these notes in my portfolio and apply to as many internships as I can. What I found most helpful was listening to those at agencies who have gone through their grad-scheme programs. I am now focused and determined on what I want to do after college. So here’s to researching, getting experience, and putting myself out there.

Note from Eva Maclaine, CIPR International: Well done Cyrenna. Glad you enjoyed your time in London and that your meetings have given you added energy to pursuing your life in PR. Good luck!

Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington welcomed George Mason University students before their session with Ketchum CEO Denise Kauffman. The students were in town for a two week study abroad program in international public relations.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Strengthening ties abroad: lessons from Oman

Jason MacKenzie, president of the CIPR, communications consultant and strategist, guest blogs for CIPR International on the highlights of his recent trip to Oman. 


Building ties internationally is a business imperative for the CIPR.

Last month I had the privilege of addressing almost 100 PR practitioners in Muscat, Oman, along with Dr Kevin Ruck and Ann Pilkington from the PR Academy. We led an interactive two-day session on internal communications, crisis management and the contemporary public relations arena.

Jason MacKenzie in Oman

Oman is a relatively small country, with a population of just over three and a half million. But the mindset of the PR practitioners is global. The first thing that struck me about those in attendance was their thirst for knowledge. Their desire to understand new ideas and learn how to put them into practice was inspiring.

In the session on modern PR, Ann Pilkington from PR Academy discussed content creation and curation. The concept of content curation was new to many of the delegates. Although a couple of attendees ran their own personal blogs, few were thinking about it from an organisational perspective. Native advertising was also a new concept for our delegates. In the crisis session, we looked at apologies, with case studies from Thomas Cook and Alton Towers prompting discussion. Few in the room had been in the position of having to manage a crisis but it was clearly a topic that was high on the agenda.

The enthusiasm for knowledge meant that the introduction to CIPR CPD was warmly received. Similarly, Dr Ruck’s presentation on employee engagement and internal communication went down well.

However, the learning wasn’t all one-way. We learnt that PR practitioners in Oman are tech-savvy. Mobile is widely used and the majority of those in attendance used Yammer in their organisations (despite experiencing similar issues to UK practitioners in driving organisation-wide adoption). Indeed, many of the challenges facing practitioners in Oman are similar to those in the UK and in countries where PR is perhaps more developed. In some ways, they have an advantage over us because PR and communication is a relatively new function. As a practice, it’s cultivating and establishing itself in a digital era and so is perfectly placed to meet today’s communication challenges.

Meeting colleagues around the world is a reminder that we are part of a global PR community. Even in countries with completely different cultures, we share common challenges and opportunities.

Later this month, I’ll be heading to Munich for the European Communications Convention, for which the CIPR has been named Official Partner. I’ll be discussing Brexit and its impact on PR, along with CIPR Chief Executive, Alastair McCapra. Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, it’s never been more important for us to collaborate and connect with colleagues around the world.


 

About Oman

Capital: Muscat

Population: 3.5 million

Language: Arabic

Religion: Islam

 

You might also be interested in…

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Throwing stones at hyenas

The ethics of PR in developing markets

 

I run Grayling’s office in Nairobi.  We are a PR consultancy working for a mix of multinational firms and local Kenyan organisations operating throughout sub-Saharan Africa, so I can only give a view on the ethics of working in these markets.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under CIPR International, Uncategorized