Faking it

Faking it
08/05/2017 - 15:06
Gail Walker, director of Open Door PR, reflects on our post-truth era.

In foodservice, one of the most commonly used words to secure customer engagement is ‘authenticity’. Brands scream ‘Look at our authentic flavours’, ‘authentic values’ and ‘authentic heritage’. What these companies are asking you to believe is that they are the real deal.

But why is there this expensive desire for legitimacy? Could it be that, in this post-truth era, we are fighting an upsurge in ‘alternative facts’?

Fake news soared to prominence during the 2016 US election campaign, where several stories were created to purposely deceive and unfairly influence.

Other types of fake news include large-scale hoaxes reported in good faith that later turn out to be false; subjective reporting of facts, such as using truthful elements but selectively omitting context; and jokes that are misinterpreted – for example, when satirical publications such as Private Eye or The Daily Mash publish fake stories for humour but these are taken out of context.

Fake news is not new, but what is new about it is the speed at which it is communicated and shared around the world. Social media has played a large part in this as inaccurate information aggregates very quickly on its platforms, contributing to a growing tension between consumer empowerment and the need for platform control.

Working with the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), we are acutely aware of how strong campaigns can be destabilised by counterfeit statistics, part truths and partisan endorsements.

Foodservice chatter is awash with personal opinion and unqualified statements. Good stories based on facts and research, are often marginalised by the proliferation of unqualified science-based nutrition stories that secure airtime, by ‘proving’ something is healthy or unhealthy.

Contrary articles can even sit next to one another, resulting in mass confusion and further public distrust.

How do we counter this? PR and advertising campaigns are generally scrutinised on the three ‘R’s – relevance, resonance and reliability. With relevance and resonance traditionally gaining the most attention, scrutiny has now turned to reliability.

For companies looking to maintain their own authenticity, embracing 24/7 media monitoring will help keep you ahead. Fake-news scenarios should be added to corporate crisis strategies. Response times should be fast and reactions responsible.

The best strategies will include a structure to deal with issues based on the seriousness of the allegations and the level of influence of the media outlet.

It might not always seem it, and the law may be yet to catch up, but the internet is not a law-free zone. If fake news is defamatory, then the law of defamation applies in the usual way.

However, even if your company could eventually win a legal battle, it is imperative to stay ahead of public opinion with transparent and authentic communications.

Copyright 2017 Cost Sector Catering
Dewberry Redpoint Limited is a company Registered in England and Wales No : 03129594 Registered Office:
John Carpenter House, John Carpenter Street, London EC4Y 0AN, UK, VAT registered, number 586 7988 48.

Design & Development by Eton Digital