Winning the war on truth: Overcoming the trust deficit

Panelists at PRDecoded discussed misinformation, building trust and crisis comms.

L-R: Mars' Kristen Campos, GoFundMe's Denise Gocke, Dick's Sporting Goods' Peter Land, PRWeek's Alexis Wierenga.

CHICAGO: From food producers to technology companies, brands of all kinds have been forced to deal with the threats of misinformation and disinformation, the topic of the fourth panel at PRWeek’s 2022 PRDecoded conference on Tuesday. 

Denise Gocke, head of corporate communications at GoFundMe, explained how the for-profit crowdfunding platform addresses misinformation on a large scale. Although GoFundMe deals with similar misinformation issues that other brands face, the stakes are higher for a company that people bet on during tough times. 

For instance, when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, people accused GoFundMe of not providing support to Afghanistan citizens.

“People were reflexively sharing information, whether it was real or not,” Gocke said, adding it was “innocent misinformation” born out of emotions.

In February, GoFundMe explained that, based on changes in laws and global financial regulations, the platform could “no longer transfer money directly to an individual in Afghanistan or release funds that will be transferred to an individual in the country.”

Gocke said that GoFundMe has increasingly used its blog to drive clarity and cut through false narratives, as it is difficult to bend the company’s own words and distort facts. 

Peter Land, SVP and chief communications and sustainability officer at Dick’s Sporting Goods, spoke about the retailer’s decision to stop restrict firearm sales to people under the age of 21 and to remove assault rifles from its stores.

Despite explicitly saying otherwise in a statement, Dick’s was accused of being anti-Second Amendment and un-American. 

Land said that the company knew the decision would upset many buyers, but it made a conscious decision not to respond to criticism. 

“We could have spent thousands of hours responding to social media posts, but it wouldn’t have mattered since it's not what people wanted to hear,” Land said, emphasizing that customers’ anger was based on emotion rather than fact. 

Kristen Campos, VP of corporate affairs at Mars Food North America, spoke about the importance of brands building trust. She emphasized that actions will always speak louder than words.

“Stating a belief is not going to defend your brand when emotions are heated; you have to take action,” she added. The scholarship program of Mars Food brand Ben’s Original, known as the Seat at the Table Fund, helps Black U.S. students who aspire to build careers in food-related industries get education and mentorship opportunities. It launched in late 2020.

Panelists concluded the session by discussing how they develop their respective crisis comms plans. 

Campos said that timing is imperative and, whenever possible, to prepare as far in advance as possible. However, she also noted that preparedness, while important, “can shift because the world shifts.”

“You have to be flexible about going back to the drawing board,” Campos advised.

Land echoed Campos’ sentiment, explaining that brands can easily be surprised by a crisis due to a rapidly expanding digital environment. 

“It’s okay to take a step back and tweak your response based on what you’ve seen and heard,” Land said.  

Gocke said that GoFundMe always attempts to get ahead of an issue, communicating with the involved parties, including advisory groups, the federal government and anyone who will likely interact with the media. 

“We try to prepare and communicate with them about what GoFundMe does,” Gocke said. “We’ve made a very concerted effort to speak with clarity and consistency.”


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