By Tessa Curtis, Principal & Director, Tessa Curtis Associates
An extraordinary woman died recently, aged 106, called Brunhilde Pomsel. Once secretary to Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, she was remarkable not just for surviving the horrors of the era but also being ahead of her time.
Brunhilde knew all about alternative facts and fake news. Goebbels employed her to create them – altering the numbers of casualties and other wartime atrocities prior to their release to the public.
Alternative facts are not new. This game is as old governments seeking to manipulate public opinion. And, let’s be clear – alternative facts from the state are simply propaganda. We’re simply better tuned to recognise it coming from countries like Russia and China rather than the US.
For once digital news platforms are on the back foot. Facebook, Google and other new generation news providers rely on digital algorithms, likes and shares. The model is unsuited to sifting fake and fiction from bona fide and fact.
Perhaps some old guard news editors could knock on digital doors and apply proven journalistic tests to a new age. A story independently corroborated by two or more independent sources generally used to run. Facebook and Google could do worse than figure out how to apply a similar test now.
And what about business – global companies and other organisations? Amid a sea of branded and owned online content, isn’t there also an issue around what’s real, what’s not, and trust?
Interesting and reliable content on the issues of the day is at a premium and the stock of those able to generate it set to rise. Corporate communicators have scope to make more impact with owned and branded content – but they need to think big and aim high.
Expectations of corporate content tend to be low, though it can be based on strong source material and factual accuracy tends to be high. The worst that most organisations can be accused of is taking too rosy a view of their own, preferred, activities and initiatives. Heads of content may be appointed but material which is inward-looking and Panglossian is likely to be ignored.
Corporate communicators have a “post-truth” opportunity for themselves, their organisations and branded content. Raise the bar and engage with issues of the day relevant to organisations and stakeholders. Reliable and factually accurate, tick! topical insight and original material, tick! If it’s also entertaining and relevant, we could really be in business.
Tessa Curtis is founder and principal of Tessa Curtis Associates, an independent corporate communications consultancy. Previously at global agencies including Trimedia and Weber Shandwick Worldwide, as head of corporate PR, she was originally a journalist, latterly Business Correspondent at the BBC and previously Daily Telegraph.
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