Suspicions regarding Don't Count Us Out can be attributed to News Corp's lack of transparencyLast week, Nielsen Media Research executives came across a case study posted to the website of Washington, DC, public affairs firm Glover Park Group (GPG).
In that study, GPG took credit for the creation of a coalition called Don't Count Us Out (DCUO), put together on behalf of client News Corp, which was concerned that a new rating system being introduced by Nielsen could conceivably undercount African-American viewers. It was feared that an undercount of minorities would hurt the ratings of News Corp's Fox and other channels that reach a younger, more urban audience.
Nielsen was quick to pounce on the case history as evidence that DCUO "is not a grassroots organization.... Now we can say that this is just News Corp speaking."
GPG's involvement in creating DCUO proves no such thing, of course. There's nothing inherently suspicious about coalition building. A corporation facing a public affairs challenge - in this case a new product with the potential to harm its business - reaches out to others whose interests coincide with its own, in this case, minority groups concerned that undercounting could lead to the premature cancellation of minority-themed shows and diminished opportunities for minority actors and media professionals.
This kind of coalition building is not only legitimate; it's good practice. In a lot of ways, it's what PR is all about - finding common interest with the public and building on it.
But a look at DCUO's website raises questions about the coalition, and answers none of them. Not only is there no mention of News Corp's involvement with the group, there is also no list of coalition members and no evidence it includes any legitimate minority-community representatives.
The first omission is all too common in public affairs. I've never understood why corporations don't take pride in their ability to find common ground with consumer and community groups. Rather than hide involvement in the resultant coalitions, why not trumpet it? Their apparent embarrassment implies that there's something underhanded about the whole business, when in reality coalition building is smart and entirely ethical.
The second omission, however, raises suspicion - or should. It seems odd that reporters covering the debate evinced no apparent curiosity about the makeup of DCUO.
The bottom line, of course, is that greater transparency - including a website that makes clear any corporate involvement, as well as listing other members of the coalition - would go a long way to neutralizing the kind of suspicions Nielsen has voiced in this case, while underscoring the legitimacy of corporate-led coalitions as an instrument of PR.