Vilified footy entrepreneur Ricky Nixon’s latest, most abortive attempt at PR redemption this weekend (Sunday Channel 7, 6.30pm) provided several clear lessons about the new art of war on the PR and reputation battleground.
The most instructive lesson — for individuals and organisations alike — from the interview was when Nixon sulked that he was being unfairly outfoxed and out-PR’ed by a teenager. One who, Nixon attests, is clearly adept at using the technologies and tools of digital media to effectively promote her own agenda and wreak havoc on his image and others’ reputations.
Brands and corporates should look on, and begin to formulate how they would handle and respond to ongoing attacks from such a nimble digital media manipulator.
Young Ms Duthie brilliantly twins the PR instincts of Phineas Taylor Barnum with the digital smarts of Perez Hilton to become a compelling media publisher in her own right. Listen to Ricky and you’ll sense that her PR timing is highly developed; so too, her ethical and moral flexibility; then there’s her understanding of the media’s appetite for celebrity scandal, gossip and infotainment; her ability to pander to their salacious needs; plus her alleged iPhone editing, hacking and video publishing skills which are clearly the match of any digital production house in the land.
When Duthie makes it to the other side of this unhappy and seemingly endless saga, there’s an argument to be made that she could well become the poster girl for the PR person of tomorrow; her on-the-spot social media publishing skills will be hugely valuable on the new reputation battleground.
The new rules of reputation
Nixon’s painful plight (whether or not you feel sympathy for the ex-football agent) is again instructive in that it reveals how the attitudes, ethics and tech skills of today’s social media savvy stakeholders can be such a mortal threat to the old order. They’re such a danger because the new aggressors are leaving the old protocols and protagonists behind in their wake.
Simply, the rules of reputation management have changed completely:
- Everyone is a potential news outlet, which exacerbates the number and variety of threats to any individual, interest or organisation
- Social media users are often creators, not just consumers, of peer news content
- Content is still king (or queen); if it’s good or rude enough — preferably sleazily grainy enough — it’ll get a following on YouTube and then picked up by traditional media
- Ethics, integrity and verifiable facts have long gone out the window — scuttlebutt rules!
Reputational terrorism is on the rise, and the guerillas in our midst are better, smarter and more aggressive in their ability to turn what you say or what you do — or equally importantly appear to say or do — into negative and damaging media fodder. Reputation2.0 isn’t about facts or actual wrongdoing — it’s equally about managing the impressions that audiences will form over any incident. And Ricky Nixon certainly won’t be viewed favourably by this latest media performance. Neither will Duthie, but her DILLIGAF attitude makes this an insignificant trifle for now.
Anyone interested in protecting reputation has to learn how to quickly and effectively respond to their detractors. The old school way of scoring an interview exclusive and trusting you have the clout or kudos to bluff your way out simply isn’t a convincing act. In fact, last night’s interview shows that if you’re not up to speed (no pun intended) you shouldn’t even be in the race. The smarter course of action might’ve been to shut up, take your medicine and re-appear in two years with some genuine humility and remorse.
And that’d be a great place to start recovering from any PR disaster, whether created by social media activists or your own flawed decision-making.
Gerry McCusker is the founder of Engage ORM (www.engageorm.com) an Australian consultancy specialising in social media and online reputation management.