Tech Talk with Bully Pulpit Interactive's Danny Franklin

“Disinformation narratives and campaigns and the harm they create go back centuries. It's now new. What is new is the speed and range in which it travels.”

Danny Franklin, partner, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Danny Franklin, partner, Bully Pulpit Interactive

Bully Pulpit Interactive in November launched Parry, a comms tech service to help campaigns, brands and organizations combat disinformation. 

The tool was built for President-elect Joe Biden's presidential campaign. It combines state-of-the-art research capabilities with targeted responses to build media strategy to fight disinformation online.

BPI partner Danny Franklin chats with PRWeek’s Aleda Stam about the technology. 

What is Parry in layman's terms?  

Disinformation is affecting broader lanes of American lives these days, not just politics but also public health and corporate reputation. The problem that institutions have in combating disinformation is that it's impossible to see the majority of the activity, the source and how it is working to influence opinion in the mind of an audience, particularly on social media. 

So we created Parry not to focus on the attack but on the wound. What do people believe? What are they seeing, hearing and feeling? And how does it influence opinion? So we've linked social media monitoring with ongoing opinion research to identify the link between what's being said, what's being understood and then how that affects opinions or attitudes. Then we use that data not just to come up with hypotheses about what's happening but to directly influence media strategy. 

What specifically does Parry measure? 

We measure what's essential. That can be political, mergers and acquisitions, or information about vaccines. We're measuring not just awareness or exposure to a disinformation narrative but the actual harm that it imposes. We analyze and prioritize a response around not just what's getting the most clicks or views, but what's doing the most to create obstacles to a strategic objective. 

For example, in the last few weeks of the Biden campaign, there was a lot of conversation about President Donald Trump's attacks on [Biden’s son] Hunter Biden and his role with Burisma. The social chatter about Hunter Biden was an order of magnitude higher than even the conversation about [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton's emails in 2016, but we were also asking what level of doubt that created about Joe Biden. And the answer was not that much, because even though [people] were aware of it, they didn't find it particularly believable.

Does Parry only offer data? 

It's technology, but it's also consultation. We are communications strategists. This isn't just a piece of software that points you in the right direction to the right target with the right message. It's something that has to be monitored progressively over time because things shift over time. This technology works best when people are responding in real time to real shifts in the news and media environment. 

Again, with the Hunter Biden example, since we saw that no one found it credible, we moved on. Instead, we focused on the president-elect's age and what that meant for his ability to be the author of his own presidency, something people actually had questions about. 

How did working on the Biden campaign hone the technology into what you're launching for companies?

Parry was created fully at the direction and with the cooperation of the Biden campaign. We were brought in to respond to the disinformation we were seeing on social media, and it became clear early that social media tracking on its own wouldn't be enough. So we developed Parry iteratively over time in the fall to solve this problem. We started with opinion research that was sharpened in response to the new information, and when there was a gap in knowledge, we were able to plug in different learning techniques like focus groups. Parry is a very sturdy spine to which a lot of different learning techniques and communications techniques attach as needed, whether your talking politics, healthcare or corporate reputation.  

Who are your clients? 

Our instinct is that the in-house communicators are the ones who will see the greatest value. But Parry does connect with agency work because we have a creative arm, as well, and that's what we found on the Biden campaign. Because everything moves so quickly, it's necessary to be in close contact with the clients themselves so you can act on shifts in the attitudinal environment with shifts in creative and media strategy. Companies these days have sophisticated social media monitoring operations, but they don't have an effective way of understanding what to do about the data they're tracking about them. 

What do you see for the future of combating disinformation? 

Disinformation narratives and campaigns and the harm they create go back centuries. It's now new. What is new is the speed and range in which it travels. But the same tools that are allowing those narratives to spread give us the ability to combat them. I see us evolving toward a more comprehensive media approach where we are responding not just through digital channels and social media but through our media and TV. Anything that gets back to the individual audience member should be incorporated into how we measure information and craft the response that uproots the narrative. 

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