Anthony Hilton: Quality content demands a filter

A few days ago I heard one consultant enthuse about a company in Japan whose internal PR department had created a film unit.

Anthony Hilton: Quality content demands a filter
Anthony Hilton: Quality content demands a filter

This unit spends its days roaming round the company looking for stories, just as a reporter would. When the team finds something, they film a piece as if for a TV news bulletin. But instead of going out on the Japanese equivalent of News at 10, the finished item is posted on YouTube.

It is not on the company web site where people would be able to guess from its context that it is internally generated. Quite the opposite. Being on YouTube means anyone coming fresh to the clip will find it hard to know where it has come from - but will probably assume it is a genuine clip from a news bulletin.

Perhaps this is just a more structured facet of the phenomenon we see on Facebook and other social media sites, where in-house PR people push out positive messages - and in the US push out negative messages about competitors - again without it being obvious from where these messages have originated.

Quite a few PR practitioners tell me they see nothing wrong with this, but I am just too old-fashioned to buy it. There is a line, surely, between being a determined advocate on behalf of a client and simply being able to peddle propaganda.

What has made this possible is direct market access. Apparently the Japanese PR department no longer tries to engage with the outside world of print and TV media, seeking to interest them in stories in the old-fashioned way. Using social media allows it to go direct.

The problem is that everybody needs some kind of quality control. It is difficult after the revelations of recent weeks to use the words quality and media in the same sentence, but the need to persuade a journalist to buy into a story does act as a kind of filter. Third party endorsement, even when the third party is a flake, brings a degree of credibility. And having to push a story requires that the PRO is on top of the subject, creative, and alive to the negatives in the story. Allow everything to be published and surely standards will plummet.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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