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The Role of Traditional Media on Corporate Reputation in this Digital Age

This week, I had the fortune of attending a PRCA Corporate Group event which challenged ‘the role of traditional media on corporate reputation in this digital age’. The industry heavy-weight panellists included the Group Director of Corporate Affairs at BT, Group Public Affairs Director at Lloyds Banking Group, Head of Digital at Hudson Sandler, and Partner of law firm, Payne Hicks Beach Solicitors.

The session delivered both lively and challenging debate, as well as cementing industry common ground on the importance of both traditional and digital platforms in today’s increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Whilst digital plays a progressively important role to consumer communications, the panel unanimously agreed that within the field of corporate reputation management, and particularly given the banking, legal and telecommunication backgrounds of the panellists involved in the discussion, traditional media (namely broadsheets, TV and radio) continues to play a more important role. Interestingly, Lance Concannon, Head of Digital at Hudson Sandler, commented that ‘traditional media is what really worries clients’.

The time-poor working lifestyles of senior stakeholders within these corporations means that they need to prioritise their media consumption, with social media platforms such as Twitter, rarely squeezing an appearance on their agenda. Michael Prescott, Group Director of Corporate Affairs at BT suggested that negative tweets or blogs rarely cause the same level of concern to ‘the board’ in comparison with a damaging story published in traditional media. His controversial likening of Twitter to ‘the conversations taking place in a very large pub’, led to a rumble of amusement from the audience.

Traditional media versus the digital age? In my opinion this is by no means an ‘either/or’ option, they don’t and shouldn’t viciously fight each other for a voice within the media landscape, but instead this perhaps raises a question about the differences in trust and accuracy of traditional media versus the content that is freely available via social media? Traditional media is written by journalists. These individuals are typically journalists by profession and so have an obligation to report accurately and are deemed (relatively speaking) to be credible sources of information – after all, that’s what they are paid to do. Social media, however, is a very different space, delivering a mix of fact, comment and opinion from everyday people, like me. From my own perspective it still amazes me some of the bizarre content that gets shared from my own ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ on social media. This is anything from light-hearted grumpy cats, vegetables that look like animals, animals that look like vegetables, right the way through to political propaganda and the latest conspiracy theories. These individuals feel compelled to part this (sometimes questionably sourced) content in a bid to influence their social media following and make change. Potentially quite dangerous when this power is harnessed to the wrong hands.

Arguably, in the right hands, this space gives people the opportunity to bypass traditional media and continue to develop an established age of ‘citizen journalists’. One of the most topical examples of these citizen journalists, an example which was raised during the panel discussion this week, is 25 year old, Zoe Sugg, more commonly known as ‘Zoella’ who has infamously created a fashion and beauty vlogger business with over 7 million subscribers to her You Tube Channel (nearly double the subscribers of the One Direction channel). It is thought that Zoe earns £20,000 a month from advertisers alone – I suspect a far disparity from an average traditional media journalist salary.

Whether a journalist by trade and training, or a citizenship journalist, and whether traditional media or social media, throughout the session, interesting questions were raised including the level of priority corporations place between media, social and public perception and the relatively grey areas between each.

If we adopt a ‘platform agnostic’ approach to corporate reputation management, what remains clear is the speed and precision in which brands must respond to communications. Whether responding to a tweet or a column in the FT, the core professional skills for effective corporate communication remains the same – the ability to be nimble, but considered.

Alexa Hopkins

Account Director

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