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#passionprojects: Asanda visits The Friends of the Children's Hospital Association

At The Friday Street Club, we allow each staff member to dedicate 3-5 working days a year of either their own time or company resources to a charity, cause or initiative that is close to their hearts - these are our #passionprojects. It's a chance for us to be able to use our expertise, experiences and contacts to make a tangible difference within the communities within which we operate. This month, Asanda went to visit The Friends of the Children's Hospital Association. Here is her story:

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Each year, every member of The Friday Street Club team is given the opportunity to dedicate work time and resources to a cause that is close to their hearts. This year, I chose The Friends of the Children’s Hospital (FOCHA) as my ‘passion project’. FOCHA is an NGO based in the Red Cross Children’s Hospital that provides patients and their parents with non-medical assistance. This includes the provision of necessities like toiletries, clothes, food and toys to make a child’s stay in hospital a little more comfortable. I chose FOCHA not only because they do amazing work, providing much needed relief during stressful circumstances, but also because I interned for the organisation about four years ago while I was still a student. I felt the need to return and see how I could help as a qualified PR.
 
I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and it was great to go back to a place where I felt like I was making a difference in someone else’s life. During my visit, I was given the responsibility of accompanying the volunteers around the children’s wards as they handed out gifts and spent time playing with the kids. It was extremely heart-warming to see the delight on their faces when a volunteer comes to spend time with them.
 
Later in the day, I had the privilege of being an MC for the Mother’s Day lunch, during which mothers were given a much-needed break from their children’s bedside to enjoy a little time to themselves. The lunch was a great success, not only because I was the MC (haha), but also because the mothers really appreciated having a little ‘me’ time. This was a great opportunity to put my PR skills to good use by ensuring that the event was a success. Apart from being the MC, I managed the event’s volunteers and ensured that everyone knew what needed to be done. I also co-managed the setting up of the room and ensured that the team finished everything on time. When the mothers arrived, I was tasked with giving them a warm welcome and making sure that everyone was well looked after and comfortable.
 
After the lunch, once I had finished with washing-up duties, I concluded the day by doing some basic admin work with the volunteer manager. It was a long, but extremely rewarding, day and I am looking forward to my next visit, where I will be putting my PR skills to good use again by helping out with their social media, events and other essential admin.
 
If you would like to find out more about FOCHA, or how you can help out on this most worthy of causes, visit their

- Asanda Mcontsi

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PR masterclass lessons from our new president

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This article first appeared in Marklives.

Our new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has shown that he’s a master of a good PR stunt and, although this alone won’t solve our county’s myriad issues, it has given him the goodwill and support to allow him some breathing space.

Change is as good as a holiday, as many a wise person has said, and the recent changes in our political landscape have certainly created s sense of heady excitement, not too unlike that felt in our festive summer months. Of course, we’re all jaded enough to not head down a well-trodden path of celebration yet; we know that the empty rhetoric means nothing if solid political policy doesn’t follow.

It comes at a time when some of our opposition parties are caught up in in-fighting and struggling to find their way and purpose. In an environment where their main foe (and reason for existing, some may say) is no longer there, it’s even more important for them to have a solidified vision and a coherent message. Perhaps they would do well in looking to our new president to pick up some handy hints on how they can sharpen up their PR plan:

1. Make a couple of grand gestures to show you are control

Being in control is as much as about what you show, as about that which you actually do. On the morning that our former president, Jacob Zuma, resigned, the properties of his friends and no.-1 arch-enemies, the Guptas, were raided in a dramatic dawn bust. Streets were cordoned off and interviews were conducted in public, surrounded by very impressive-looking police teams.

As many cynics mumbled, there probably wasn’t a huge amount of actual forensic evidence gained from this; I’m sure that many a hard-drive was wiped clean and many a stack of paper shredded long in advance. But it wasn’t really about that. It was about making a grand gesture to show who was now in control and showing that dramatic changes were underfoot.

2. Disarm your enemies with charm

There are two kinds of politicians: those who get things happening by trying to get everyone on their side (see former US president, Barack Obama, and Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau) and those who trample over objections, making people do their will by pure force alone (see Donald Trump).

The past few years have seen nothing if not a massive battle of wills every time our political parties come face-to-face, and we’d become used to parliamentary meetings and SONA debates that were as dramatic and confrontational as a WWF wrestling finale. But there is only so much that pure aggression, stubbornness and force of will can achieve, and it seems our new president knows the power in disarming the enemies with charm. It puts objectors on the backfoot and positions them as obstructers to the peace — and often, as in the case with Julius Malema, leaves them in a position where they need to find a new enemy to object to and a new purpose for being.

3. Stop for a selfie

There’s not much more of a measure these days which shows popularity such as being asked to be in a selfie: it shows that a person is not only famous but also liked enough for someone else to want to be seen in a photo with them.

For politicians — often described as being aloof and out of touch with the common person, and in recent years, purposely being surrounded by huge security teams — a small gesture like this goes a massive way in telling a new story. Being seen “in among the people”, dressed casually and without a barriers of security people keeping the public an arm’s length away, is a strong message that the new president wants to be seen as a man of the people, approachable, and open to hearing the thoughts and wishes of South Africans.

4. Align yourself with a (folk) hero

A good speechwriter knows that a tug on the heartstrings can always be a winner — and so the quote from the recently departed Hugh Masekela in Ramaphosa’s SONA speech was a masterstroke. It not only showed that the president is someone who is in tune with popular culture but it also aligned him with a man whose place in commenting on and fighting against the inhumanities of our past had a warmth and credibility.

Even more amusing, however, was former finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s apparent attempt to do the same, by quoting Kendrick Lamar at the end of his budget speech. It didn’t quite have the same outcome, though, as it showed a lack of sensitivity and seriousness in a time when measures were being announced that will have a profound impact on the people of South Africa.

5. Create a hashtag

Of course, no good PR campaign would be without a hashtag, and soon after the president quoted Bra Hugh in his SONA address, the hashtag #SendMe began doing the rounds on social media. It was an inspired choice of quote — it demonstrated a commitment to changing things, and getting his hands dirty, but it also invited the general public to get involved and be a part of this change.

So, a strong start to a PR campaign, which seems to have done what it set out to do: a general public who is, in large, open to working with a new leader and positive about his leadership; opposition parties who are, largely, cooperative; and a generally positive environment and stable economy, despite some tough measures being announced in the budget.

Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase of this “New Dawn” — we will need to see what substance lies underneath the positive spin. But having a president who understands the value of appearances and perception, and who wants to get people on side, can’t be a bad start.

Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

A look back at the year that has been

This article first appeared in Marklives.

I think I speak for many of us when I say that I’m looking forward to the end of the year, both with some trepidation and some relief. As is the case every year, time seems to rush past faster and faster; how did we get here so quickly? It was surely only the other day when we were sitting down to earnestly plan what this year would entail. And yet… what a year. What a year. Bring on the time off; it feels well-deserved.

This time of the year is often one for reflection and contemplation. In no particular order, here are some of the things that resonated with me over the past year.

Smaller is sometimes better
It’s not the first time this has been said and it certainly won’t be the last. Agencies that are not looking for ways to make their business models smaller and nimbler will struggle, as clients look to partners who can turn excellent work round quickly without massive, cumbersome teams.

The past year has seen a number of the bigger, established local agencies suffer from some serious blows. On the flipside, however, I’ve noticed many smaller hot shops building their business through innovative new business models, based on small core teams, serviced by excellent contractors and freelancers.

Mediocre isn’t going to cut it any more
When times get tough, the weakest links get let loose. There are so many examples of poor work being produced by agencies and, with this, I’ve seen many clients moving their work to agencies and suppliers that they trust.

Agencies don’t have the buffers to support staff who coast through under the radar, letting other people carry them, anymore; and clients don’t have the budgets to have multiple reverts with agencies who just don’t get it, or who waste time and money with enormous account teams in every meeting.

I still believe here is enough of a pie to share among all (or at least most) of us, but only to those that deserve it.

The ride will continue to be bumpy for some time yet
The past year has certainly been no joy ride, and the economic tremors we have felt here are sure to continue as our political situation continues to be unstable. However, we’re not alone: Trumponomics, Brexitonomics and more continue to give our foreign friends the heeby-jeebies and there’s no sign of it calming down for them, either.

The solution? Apart from putting all eggs in a Bitcoin basket, the same holds true of every phase of economic uncertainty — hold tight and ride it out, if possible.

I would add, for those in our industry, there is the need to consciously make changes to operate in a way that is tighter and nimbler. See point one above for those who are finding the economy particularly tough. Massive account teams, duplicated roles and bogged-down ways of working just won’t cut it any more.

Things aren’t necessarily getting worse; we’re just more aware of them
If 2016 was the year in which all of our favourite celebrities died, 2017 was the one where we found out all the ones left were really creepy. In the tsunami of relegations about celebrity sex pests and the resulting #metoo stories, it would not have been surprising to assume that things were suddenly getting out of control. But I think it is a case of us being more aware — and of people standing up and saying enough is enough — rather than things necessarily being “worse” than before.

Harassment and bullying of women and the young — and any other groups who are marginalised or weak — is not new. Every woman in the industry I know has a story, or many, to tell of how they have been at the receiving end, whether it be unwanted sexual attention, or being patronised, downtrodden or “mansplained” to by men in the workplace. And things are not going to suddenly change but, the more they are spoken about, and the more we say they are “not OK”, the more things will start to transform.

In times of darkness, look for light
It’s pretty easy to get downcast when looking at the news and social media feeds awash of people talking about the demise of the country, impending economic doom and so on.

So, here’s the thing. It’s not just us who are in a shitty place. Have a look around the world. Having lived and worked overseas for more than a decade and, after having come home again, I can promise that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

While we are all bitching and moaning about how tough it is, there are others who are using this time to their advantage. In times of downturn, innovation and entrepreneurship flourish. While we sitting here talking about the lack of opportunity, there are a load of global brands and companies from around the world coming to South Africa — and Africa — to build their fortunes.

I have a strong belief that our reality is driven by our thoughts and actions. Which means that how 2018 unfolds for us will very much be down to the changes and outlook that we implement now.

Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

A lament for the dying art of craftsmanship

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This article first appeared in Marklives. 

In a time of conversations being led by little yellow smiley faces, are we losing the art of craftsmanship and being a wordsmith? And does this matter?

I recently picked up a beloved book from my childhood: Roald Dahl’s “Enormous Crocodile”. I hadn’t looked at this book for decades but, after opening its pages, I was instantly transfixed by its beautiful, and witty, language. He writes about the crocodile being “a wicked beastly beast”, “a foul and filthy fiend” and how the other animals in the jungle hoped that he got “squashed and squished and squizzled and boiled up into crocodile stew”. How wonderful and delightful to read, despite it being aimed at children. I would be hard-pressed to find many adult books today written in such enticing English.

Around the same time that I picked up this old book, I also paged through a UK high-end fashion magazine, which offered a contrast. Silly articles about silly people and brain-deadening lists of acronyms, peppered with lolzes. To be fair, I like a fluffy celeb piece as much as the next person but, in this case, there were “features” that were so badly written that, if they had been Google-translated from Greek, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

So, is this really an issue? Does caring about this make one a miserable old nit-picking fuddy-duddy? Maybe so, and millennials may snigger behind their hands as much as they like. And, yes, language does — and should — change and develop over time.

Some years ago, we all thought emoticons were weird childish things that only kids (or maybe the Japanese — just check out Guadatama for reference) would find relevant. But, these days, everyone, including my pensioner mother, litters their communications with said little faces. Execs at Facebook recently talked about this, how language is moving towards simplification and how emoticons represent an intuitiveness that transcends language and political borders. Brands are following suit; there are some that now run transactions and customer services not just through bots but through a predetermined set of emoticons.

Perhaps this simplification is not a dumbing down but rather a move, driven by globalisation, to the creation of a way of communicating that breaks down barriers to a common understanding that is accessible to all. But, hell, how I miss some of the craftsmanship of our past.

There is an argument that, before we simplify, we need to have mastered the complex. Picasso, known for his crazy, stylised artworks, had mastered incredible realism in painting before he moved onto his famous stylised works. It was this that made him a master — he had perfected the perfect, and so moved to something that could be expressed better through simplification and stylisation. That’s what makes him a genius, rather than artists who used simplification because they were unable to master the complex.

The same could be said about language.

In our industry, yes, it is important for us to be able to communicate in a way that is accessible to all. The problem is that many people in our industry perhaps are unable to communicate in any other way. This is an issue because we are supposed to be experts in communications, and our clients are paying us for this expertise.

Maybe no one cares. But maybe they do.

I stopped visiting a local restaurant because its awfully sub-edited (or lack thereof) menu pissed me off every time I went there. I couldn’t keep looking at “chocolate mouse” or “snail’s in Garlic butter” without having something inside me die. Said restaurant is now out of business. Perhaps the lack of care in the menu translated into the general lack of care to its overall business.

While 90% of the population may not notice or care, 10% do. We recently started working with a client that demands a certain level of care and craftsmanship in writing. In our first meeting, I was handed the following quote by art critic Robert Hughes, which has set the tone for the rest of the working relationship:

“I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling… I love the spectacle of skill… I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones…”

As with the articles in the UK fashion magazine mentioned before, I see countless examples in our industry of shoddy writing and a basic lack of understanding of grammar. I have heard time and again of agencies lamenting the lack of copywriters entering the industry and have seen too many examples to mention of “communications experts” publishing pieces that show an eye-watering lack of a basic understanding of grammar.

Where is the problem coming in? Is this a failure of teaching in our schools and tertiary educations? I certainly see countless examples of graduates who have no understanding of the different between “peek” and “peak” or who love to use random apostrophes or capital letters for no apparent reason. Or is it this same old argument of “millennials being different”? Again, perhaps so. The people who literally never read a book (or magazine or back of a cereal packet) seem to be demonstrably more so than those who do.

Maybe we just need to change, and to accept the move towards a future where we communicate in a new kind of sign language based around yellow faces and little pictures of monkeys covering their eyes in shame? Or maybe not. Because if Dahl could use beautifully crafted and intelligent language to thrill children and adults alike, decade after decade, could we not do the same?

Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

 

When PR agencies go rogue

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This article first appeared in Marklives.

The unfolding details of the #GuptaLeaks emails have been fascinating reading, despite whether they prove to be true or, as those implicated state, “fake news”. For those of us in the PR and communications industry, the most fascinating of all must surely be the integral role that the now-infamous UK agency, Bell Pottinger, has allegedly played.

I wrote about it in a recent column but, as more allegations and titillating details have emerged, I have found myself riveted to the story, and more needs to be said concerning what this means about us and our industry.

At first look, the unravelling allegations seem right out of a Jason Bourne movie, or perhaps a radically updated James Bond one. All the requisite details are there — from outrageous amounts of money being lugged around, literally, if reports are to be believed, in unmarked bags; to plotting and scheming that spans continents and reaches right into the highest levels of government. Central to all of this seems to be the role that our ‘favourite villainous’ spin-doctors, Bell Pottinger, have played.

I’ve often told people that what we do is not rocket science. When people are having a panic attack about the size of a logo or a media invite going out a day late, it’s not the end of the world; no one’s life is at stake. That what we, as PR people do, is not so earth-shatteringly important as to lose a night’s (ok, or too many nights’) sleep over.

And, to be fair, what Bell Pottinger have been accused of doing is not a million miles away from that which has been common place for years. Some of the most well-known, -experienced and -admired people in the industry have cut their teeth in the political sphere — think Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s political spin-doctor for his years in power. The role that PR plays within the political landscape — building relationships with and securing support from influential groups; informing public opinion; building up a person or organisations’ reputation — is not new.

But this is PR in a different league.

Apparently, a group of wealthy, connected and powerful businessmen have, literally, attempted to take over a democratically elected government.

Let that sink in for a moment.

So, where does the work that “legitimate” lobbying (or, on a much-smaller and more-insignificant scale, the corporate or consumer PR work we do for brands) cross the line to become that which we find so horrifying with all that appears to be the case with Bell Pottinger and the #GuptaLeaks saga? There’s a very fine line between the two and, in this case, several red flags which should make us alarmed, very alarmed.

The first is that private wealth, coming from a very small group of people, funded the PR company that in turn used its expertise to influence government and legislation. This is a fundamental spit in the face of democracy — it means that, if you’re wealthy enough, you’re able to overcome the rules and leverage the power of a democratically elected government in your own favour. It means that, if you’re not wealthy beyond belief (which is pretty much everyone else), you’re powerless to change this. It overrides the very founding belief of democracy, which is that no person is more important or has more rights than the next.

The second red flag is that of how the PR agency rolled out its campaign. According to various news reports, it engaged in a number of dubious tactics, including fake “influencers” and Twitter trolls which spread its dodgy messaging and which were unleashed in full force against any detractors. Hand in hand with this was the besmirching of innocent people’s names and reputations [latest: BREAKING: Protesters target our Peter Bruce after anti-Gupta articles on TimesLive — ed-at-large] when they “got in the way” and the creation of messaging that was not only aimed at excusing its client’s behaviour but at hiding and obscuring the truth.

This is not about press releases pushing the benefits of some product or other. This is about the development of stories and narratives that went further to sow political and racial divisions in an already divided and politically sensitive country.

I wonder what it must be like to have been part of the Bell Pottinger team who worked on this account, if all the allegations prove to be true. I’ve always found it difficult, if not impossible, to work on ‘PRing’ an account that I found morally dubious.

So what do you think the agency team members thought or felt when they were working on this account? Did they honestly think they were doing some kind of valuable or good work? Did they think that we fools at the bottom of the darkest African continent knew or deserved no better? Or did they just take the big fat pay cheque and walk away, not caring what havoc they’ve caused at the other end of the world?

The reality is that this PR, lobbying, spin doctoring, whatever we may call it, has been bent and twisted to benefit a very few, those who already inhabit a league of wealth and power that’s incomprehensible to most South Africans. This is not a game that is being played with no consequences. Real people and real lives have been impacted, and the politics of a nation that we used to believe was protected by a mythical rainbow has been permanently besmirched.

Imagine being the spin doctors who are proud to have that on their résumé?

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

The problem with fake influencers

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This article first appeared in Marklives.

Hot on the back of fake news, we now, by all accounts, have to deal with fake influencers. And as PR and media relations move more and more away from drafting conventional press releases and working with traditional media, we need to be very aware of the value of working with influencers, and the danger of working with and supporting those whose value is based on falsehoods.

The local influencer scene was hit by a mini-skandaal recently, when local bloggers Leigh van den Berg, from Lipgloss is My Life, and Candice-Lee Kannemeyer, from In My Bag, set up a dodgy Instagram account designed to expose and show how easy it is to quickly build a social-media profile with an impressive amount of followers — all of which were fake. Their account, called fake_fake_fake1981, made it very obvious that it was a fake account, stating it in the profile plus the name. They quickly grew a following, buying a thousand followers for a handful of US dollars, and paying for likes on dodgy pics (one of which was just a blank white space).

The two reckon that this practice is widespread in the local blogging and ‘influencer’ community, with a good many boosting their followers and profiles by huge margins. So what is the issue with this? So what if people want to boost their egos by appearing to have lot of fans?

Lots, really. Because these people are using these stats, these fake followers, to make money. The rates they charge for sponsored posts, for covering an event or for writing about a brand or product, are based purely on the amount of followers they have and the reach of their influence. And when the stats are fake, these people, make no mistake, are scam artists taking advantage of brands and businesses.

As the PR industry, we need to ensure we’re not feeding this fire. I have seen a good few examples where PR agencies have placed features with dodgy influencers (and questionable media outlets), adding the “reach” and AVE “monetary value” to their campaign reports. The value of the agency and the work that it does is often measured on these reports, meaning that the value of the agency is based on inflated metrics, based on falsehoods.*

I have a big issue with this. The very foundation of strong PR is based on relationships and trust (whether that be with media contacts, clients or other stakeholders) and, when agencies mislead their clients by falsely inflating figures, that is a fundamental break of that trust.

So, what to do, and what should clients and PR managers look out for?

Like most things in life, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If a local social-media superstar has hundreds of thousands of followers, look into this carefully. (Although I would caution not to tar everyone with the same brush; many have credibly worked to build this following legitimately). Look for and ask for stats for their other platforms, backed up by credible measurement tools such as Google Analytics — if their blog or website’s stats don’t measure up to their social media ones, something is probably out.

Dig around into the followers themselves; if they just follow thousands of people, without having followers themselves, or if they have little or no content, they are likely to be bots.

Interrogate the comments and likes under posts — often bots give themselves away by posting generic comments under posts, and these may be picked out if they don’t quite make sense compared to the content of the posts.

The same goes for dodgy media publications that PRs include in their media reports. Spend a little time checking out these publications; if they’re portals that simply host loaded press releases, they shouldn’t strictly be counted as earned-media coverage, and certainly shouldn’t incur an inflated PR AVE value.
The out-take? Let’s, as the PR industry, take collective responsibility for acting in an authentic and transparent way. We, often rightly in scenarios like these, are accused of dodgy practices and spin-doctoring. Let’s not give the haters more reason to hate us.

*I am going to add another personal whinge to this, and this is the widely used practice of multiplying AVE figures for coverage placed by three in order to reach the “PR Value”. This has widely been phased out by most credible businesses, because it uses a random metric to inflate measurables, making the value offered by the agency appear more than it is. If people are going to use AVE as a measurable — and the value of that as a credible measureable is a debate be held over for another time — then it should be measured in its purest form, so as to compare apples with apples, not apples with elephants.

Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

The role of PR during times of fake news

This article first appeared in Marklives.

Fake news. Until a year or so ago, we probably wouldn’t have understood the term. But now we cannot help but know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon becomes added to the Oxford Dictionary or named “phrase of the year”. The concept has played a fundamental part in how we currently understand and engage with information, so much so that the president of the US is not only incredibly vocal about news he deems fake, but, if the rumours are even half to be believed, was elected on the back of it.

Propaganda and the use of news and information to drive beliefs and certain causes are nothing new. But what is truly alarming is the out-and-out attack on media by a leader of a democratic country, and the demeaning of anything that challenges him or that he perceives as against his agenda, as fake.

Once a free and (somewhat) unencumbered media is deemed as “fake”, it delegitimises a number of things, not least the freedom of the public to challenge measures done by those in authority when they believe that what they are doing is wrong. When a leader starts to decide what information is “correct” and what is not, it is not a long jump to an authoritarian era where the only news and information allowed is state-owned propaganda, controlled by the “thought police” that, until recently, we believed were exclusive to Orwellian novels and tin-pot dictators.

Back here on our own shores, we are incredibly lucky (and I don’t say this lightly) to have a free and challenging press. We cannot underestimate the value of this.

But the concept of a free and objective press (however much this is or isn’t a reality) has been under fire from many sides for a while. And we, as PR practitioners (and the wider advertising and marketing industry) need to have their back. Not adding to the chaos and the attacks.
Not too long ago it was alleged that a local PR business was involved in a fake news campaign for a political party in the lead up to our local government elections. According to the allegations, local “influencers” were paid to spread good news about said party (which is common to most, if not all, “influencer” campaigns). The worrying bit was that they were also paid to spread fake news about the other parties, sharing false documents purportedly made by these other parties, along with nasty stories about them. Around this time, too, we also saw the birth of local fake news sites and the emergence of “Paid Twitter” — an army of twitter trolls, attacking the enemies of their powerful bankrollers.

Even more recently, we’ve seen allegations that the UK-based Bell Pottinger PR agency had been dabbling in influencing South African politics and race relations on behalf of our infamous local villains, the Gupta family. If these allegations are to be believed, the business was paid handsomely to spread false news about those who stand in the way of the family’s ambitions, while flooding outlets and social media channels with propaganda-led missives that obscured the truth and drove divisions.

There’s a line that is being crossed here and we in the PR industry need to be very, very careful that we don’t cross it.

Before the widespread emergence of social media, the majority of any news and information that we received came through these traditional media channels. The restriction of who could and couldn’t distribute information, meant, largely, that a sort of gentleman’s code was followed: media outlets largely attempted to be free, fair, objective and report news that was backed up with research and solid facts (I’m discounting the tabloids and their attention-grabbing headlines about aliens and tokoloshes for argument’s sake here).

Then the explosion of the internet and social media happened and, with the blink of an eye, literally anyone could become a publisher. Which meant that any old rubbish could be shared and presented as the truth. Coupled with this is the radical shrinking of the traditional media. You only have to go into any newsroom and see that most newspaper houses are not just working on skeleton staff, they are literally, Miss Haversham-like, sitting in dusty buildings holding on to an era that is fast disappearing.

There just isn’t the time or resources available for them to research, interrogate and create the news stories that are needed to fill the endless needs of 24-hour channels and an audience demanding real-time updates. And in this rush, unsubstantiated “fake news” gets pushed out as “real news” — one only needs to see the chaos that ensued this past weekend when Huffington Post South Africa published a piece from a person, who didn’t exist, calling for sectors of the population to lose voting rights. Quite rightly, the publication was called to account, deleted the post, and issued an apology, while its local partner, Media24, announced that it would be investigating the situation.

But how much fake stuff enters the public domain, and how much of it is consumed by an audience that is not tech-savvy and cynical enough to question it? It all means that our very jobs as PRs — the creating of news and sharing of content on behalf of our clients and brands — play an ever-bigger role. But we need to be curators with integrity and be responsible in that the news that we are creating is true and grounded in reality. Media, and the public, need to know that, when we share this news, there is a fundamental basis in truth.

There is enough ‘fakeness’ and rubbish out there. We cannot and should not be adding to this.

It’s not even just about ethics. We will do ourselves out of jobs if we become the purveyors of fake news. The only reason we are able to be successful is if we have good relationships with the media and the public who receive this information, and that they trust us.

Once that trust is gone, our industry will soon follow.

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.

 

Turbulent times for industry women

If I’d had to describe myself a year ago, I probably would’ve come up with a description along the lines of “feminist lite”. A belief in a Spice Girls-esque version of Girl Power, I suppose, where feisty women hung around in girl gangs, talking about equality while comparing the best brand of sparkly nail polish and badass heels. But something’s happened over the past year to change this.

Almost a year in our (not so new anymore) home

This time last year we were viewing properties and signing the lease for the space that was to become our new home - The Friday Street Club HQ. Starting with a renovation of a blank and empty space, it's grown to be a happy place, full of laughter, always visited by friends (and a good few dogs).

Annual Christmas party with the kids at the Abaphumeleli Home of Safety

Xmas party

As the year drew to an end, it was time for our (now becoming) annual Christmas party for the kids at the Abaphumeleli Home of Safety in Khayelitsha.

The orphanage and home of safety is run by Evelyn Makasi in her own home, housing almost 40 children from between the ages of new born and 18 years old. We arrived with five cars packed to the brim with gifts, party goodies and enough staples (food, household supplies and so on) to last a couple of months, thanks to all the support and donations from friends and supporters. It's been so special seeing the kids grow year by year in such as happy and loved environment. 

We're hiring!

We have a bunch of positions we are looking to fill including:

  • Account Manager or Senior Account Manager - Johannesburg: full-time, freelance or contract
  • Senior Account Manager or Account Director - Cape Town: full time 
  • Account Executive or junior/admin- Cape Town: full time

More details below:

We’re looking for some damn good people to join our team, some based in Johannesburg, some in Cape Town.

We’re looking for all the normal experience - previous experience  in a comms, PR or ad agency; shit hot media relations skills; and a winning way in managing clients. We can cover all the details of what you can do and what you’re good at when we chat in person. 

We’re looking for people that are flexible and multi-talented; people that understand that PR is more than just about farming out a bunch of dull press releases. People that are obsessed with media and the news; that love popular culture; people that are eager to get stuck in to projects that incorporate brand strategy, design, social media, events and anything else we feel like throwing into the mix.

But more importantly is how you fit in with the team and our core values.

We take attention to detail and craftsmanship really seriously. We’re close on being obsessed in fact. We want to do really, really good work, that impresses the hell out of our clients. We think that typos and sloppy grammar are rude. We’re on a mission to change people’s perceptions about PR being the poor cousin of the marketing industry.

We are really passionate about the brands and clients we work with. If we can’t love them, how can we get anyone else to love them.

We like to keep it simple and transparent. We don’t bamboozle people with jargon and sell them impracticable plans.

And we believe in partnership and mutual respect – we think we can be happy at work and have fun along the way. We’re not joking when we say we have no time for big egos, douchebags and psychos. 

If you think you’re that person, send us your details, we’d love to chat.  Drop us a note before the end of November 2016. 

Welcome to new client: SAB Foundation

SAB Foundation

We are excited to have been brought on board by the SAB Foundation as a marketing and communications agency, after a four way pitch process. We will be partnering with Duke to develop a new CI and supporting collateral for the initiative.

The SAB Foundation does amazing work with entrepreneurs, start ups and social innovators, benefitting some of South Africa's most vulnerable. We are so looking forward to helping them tell their stories.