Powerful stories to tell: a Zignal Labs-hosted roundtable

Culminating a four-event tour, San Francisco played host as PR leaders shared unique perspectives on fake news, CSR, and other reputation-driving tactics

Zignal Labs CEO Josh Ginsberg joined the roundtable, adding insight on the real impact of fake news. (Photo courtesy of Josh Edelson)

-Lucy Allen, GM, Bay Area head, Edelman
-Lee Anderson-Brooke, EVP, tech practice lead, Weber Shandwick
-Carolin Bachmann, senior PR manager, Neustar
-Fred Bateman, CEO and founder, Bateman Group
-Amanda Coffee, lead manager, global corporate comms, PayPal
-Fred Han, senior manager, comms, LinkedIn Sales and Marketing Solutions Group
-Kristin Hollins, SVP, senior partner, Americas Reputation Management Practice lead, FleishmanHillard
-Emily Horn, director of corporate comms, HP
-Jenna Kozel, director of corporate comms, Okta

Your brand will never be as strong as it can be if minding its reputation is not among your top priorities. Consumers are watching intently. Patronage is determined by more than product quality and price.

The CEO’s actions and CSR activity that matches identifiable organizational values were two of many such factors highlighted by the comms leaders who recently convened in San Francisco for a Zignal Labs-hosted roundtable.

In addition, fake news, which is occupying an increasing presence in all brand health conversations, was discussed at this dinner gathering. While all of the assembled leaders recognized the threat, though sentiments varied as to its severity, Zignal Labs CEO Josh Ginsberg offered a unique perspective.

"Fake news actually turns into a real story," he said. "When you combine fake news with the very real amplification of that fake news it requires different types of playbooks."

Uncovering the challenges and tactics PR pros are employing to boost reputation, manage crises, work with influencers, and deal with fake news and misinformation, are all part of the Brand Health Study PRWeek and Zignal Labs conducted earlier this year. The roundtable brought many of these issues to the forefront. Below we share each participant’s top thoughts:

Lucy Allen, Edelman:
Our studies have shown that 64% of customers will buy  from a brand that shares their beliefs or will boycott a brand that doesn’t. This underscores the need to focus on reputation and the consequences of not doing so. In addition, 54% of consumers think brands have more power to solve societal issues than governments do. Brands are expected to do good.

Lee Anderson-Brooke, Weber Shandwick:
A key part of analytics is determining whether to engage or not and advising executives accordingly. Data might tell you something you don’t like, but do you need to fight it? Is it influencing the people that really matter to you? Is it influencing the people who are simply the loudest or the ones who are going to truly drive the fortunes of your company?

Carolin Bachmann, Neustar:
Our former CEO Lisa Hook drove our efforts to create a partnership that educated about 300,000 children across Kentucky, Virginia, and California on STEM education and cyberbullying. She passionately led diversity and inclusion efforts to where we now have female coders and our board and executive leadership committee is 30% female. The brand’s credibility and employee enthusiasm has notably improved as a result.

Fred Bateman, Bateman Group:
When engaging with any new client, one of the first things you focus on is developing their storyline. You help them zero in on the topics and trends they have true expertise in and, thus, can comment on, but also other areas in which they have a point of view that could positively impact their business. And everything must always align with the values by which the company stands.

Amanda Coffee, PayPal:
An interesting impact of fake news is that it has made traditional journalists and media organizations even more relevant and trusted. You see a story in such an outlet and you know it’s been fact-checked, sourced, and thoroughly reviewed. They are even more impactful, not only on readers, but also the subject of those stories. And it makes cultivating relationships with those reporters more relevant, too.

Fred Han, LinkedIn:
One of the programs we’re particularly proud of is our work with returning veterans. They need help getting readjusted to civilian life. That includes filling out a resume so they can find jobs. We call these opportunities DBIs – diversity, belonging, and inclusion. And it’s not about getting LinkedIn noticed. It’s about living up to our mission of helping to create economic opportunity.

Kristin Hollins, FleishmanHillard:
Our recent research reported that 51% of people say their perceptions of a company are based on the products and services they offer. That’s innovation, customer service, and the like. That means 49%, just about half, base it other drivers such as management behavior and societal benefits. It’s no surprise social purpose comes up in conversations about brand reputation and health. Consumers are telling us how much it matters.

Emily Horn, HP:
Brands must take care to present their social good stories properly and not have them ring hollow. It very much helps to lead with your stories, not with the brand. And you should lead with the partners you team with and the affiliations you support. Put yourself in the background. HP considers itself a leader on D&I, but one of the ways we really lead started a couple of years back when our then-CMO instituted a scorecard for all our vendors to gauge D&I on all their executive teams.

Jenna Kozel, Okta:
We sit down with the CEO and cofounder and talk through all potential crises that could happen. You obviously can’t know the details before it takes place, but we have a firm series of beliefs and statements to amplify them. So when and if a crisis occurs, we are immediately ready to comment and put our values out there.

This was the fourth and final 2018 roundtable convened by Zignal Labs and PRWeek. The first three took place in New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta.

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