Thought Leadership in the Age of Fake News

thought leadership, fake news, Elon musk, Chris Brogan, Doris Kearns Goodwin,

One of the traditionally best routes to positive brand identity, media exposure, and best of all—public trust, is if the founder, CEO, or public face of an entity you represent is, or has the potential to be, what we call a “thought leader.”

“Thought leader” is a jargon-y term, somewhat overused, but succinctly descriptive. A thought leader is a trusted expert in his/her field, often called upon to discuss innovation, best practices, or even the future of said field.

For example, Elon Musk is a thought leader in electric vehicles and space travel; Chris Brogan is a thought leader in marketing and social media; Douglas Brinkley and Doris Kearns Goodwin are thought leaders on American presidents.

Which brings us to the topic of “fake news.” To be clear, fake news isn’t new. While it is exacerbated by the immediacy—and the anonymity—of the Internet, fake news is not a product of the Internet. From Anecdoa to pasquinades to canards, fake news has been with us pretty much since humans could whisper and wink.

In the past, however, we all recognized the difference between stories about Sasquatch reigning terror across the Yukon and the Taliban reigning terror across Afghanistan. Now, we have honest-to-God fabrications finding their way into the news cycle, as well as people with traditionally venerated bully pulpits claiming any news they don’t like is fake—regardless of who reported it or how un-fake it really is.

Setting aside that entire mess, let’s focus for a moment on what that means for PR professionals. We spend much of our time trying to maintain or promote clients as thought leaders in media outlets that once were trusted sources but now are barraged with charges that they are purveyors of fake news.

Entering into any public conversation these days is not for the faint of heart. The topic could be “The Beauty of Roses” and before you can say “stop and smell them,” someone has posted that “Roses are a faux romantic symbol of the Princess trope foisted on young girls as a means of oppression. Boycott Roses!” And so it goes.

In a recent industry survey, 91% of journalists believe the public trusts them less in 2017 than in years past. With the public so angry and media under relentless attack, will people see our clients as reputable thought leaders or as suspicious co-conspirators with alleged fake news outlets? Should we still try to have our clients featured as thought leaders in media outlets?


But let’s not stop there. It’s still a good thing for clients to be quoted in media coverage of a topic that’s germane to their expertise, thereby achieving third party validation of their role as thought leaders. The key is to be selective in where you place them.

  • Look for media outlets that retain the public trust, that maintain “standards and practices,” and that maintain clear lines between reportorial, editorial, and sales.
  • Look for bloggers who are themselves recognized leaders in their area of expertise.
  • Avoid outlets with a known political bent (unless that’s your audience).
  • Avoid outlets that are “pay to play.”

The other key is to be prolific.

  • Create think pieces (beyond blogs) for the company’s website and newsletters.
  • Write articles for the company’s LinkedIn page.
  • Create “white papers” on issues concerning your clients’ industries and professions.

As we’ve seen, anyone can dispute facts they don’t like. That doesn’t make those facts any less real. If your clients have something valuable to say, help them say it and help them find the right audience.

Five Christmas Clichés to Send Over the River and…You Know

Christmas cliches, Santa Claus, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Tis' the Season, The Knight Canney Group, public relations

We get it. It’s a busy time of year. You may be trying to get everything done so you can take time off over the holidays. Or maybe the client is insisting on a “funny parody” to promote an event or product. Whatever it is that’s pushing you toward any of these clichés, resist—and instead insist on a little more imagination. Be firm and say “no” to:


  1. Any parody of any line from “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Commonly referred to as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Clement Moore’s poem has been parodied to sell everything from mobile phone plans to men’s underwear. (Nothing says “Christmas” like a pitch to package the family jewels.)
  1. It’s beginning to look a lot like… We love Meredith Willson’s holiday song, but we don’t love it as an intro to the weather forecast or copy for a department store sale. It’s tired and uninspired. So, no. Just no. (And helpful tip: “a lot” in any context is two words: a and lot. Never alot.)
  1. The white stuff. While we’re mentioning weather, please just call it snow.
  1. The Grinch who stole… the money for the homeless shelter, the donated toys for tots, the wise men from the crèche—just fill in the blank. Sad stories all, made all the sadder by the same words we heard and read last year. And the year before.
  1. ’Tis the season. This is, hands down, the laziest of holiday copy writing. Whether it’s promotional, sales or news copy, anyone older than 12 who uses “’tis the season” is guilty of gross lack of imagination. ’Tis the season? ’Tis the reason you’re fired.

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, what a Grinch!” But no, we’re not stealing anything other than the opportunity for taking the easy way out in holiday copywriting. The principles that work all year round, work especially well during the holidays: tell a story, keep it simple, make it personal, know your audience.

One other helpful tip—no one actually likes fruitcake.



Emojification of Communication

Emoji, The Unicode Consortium, Apple, Craig Federighi, Microsoft, Luke Stark, The Knight Canney Group

“You know, sometimes you’ve typed a whole message and you realize at the end that you’re entirely lacking in emojification. So we provided the solution: When you tap on the emoji button, we’ll highlight all the emojifiable words there, and you can just tap, tap, tap, tap and emojify.”

Thus spake Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president for software engineering, at last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

It seems that Apple’s annual showcase of new tech is not just for corporate image building anymore. Now the world’s richest company wants to transform your written text into strings of colorful glyphs depicting faces, animals, food, machines, sports equipment, musical instruments, hearts, brains, and – if sponsor tie-ins evolve to the point of no return – Chewbacca quaffing a can of Diet Pepsi while moussing with Pantene Pro-V Hair Gel.

This makes for a product placement content marketing public relations mashup of nightmarish proportions, no? Yes. This is almost more overwhelming than that time Microsoft delivered the “reversed hand with middle finger extended.”

Emoji first inserted themselves into the world via 1990s Japanese pagers. And while pagers now sleep with the fishes (sushi, anyone?), emoji have gone forth and multiplied. You’d be hard pressed to find a text message, Facebook post, or Instagram caption that doesn’t contain at least one emoji (emojum?).

And because there is no higher praise than for one tech company to steal copy another tech company’s shiny new thing, thanks to Apple, emoji are on the cusp of ruling the world. Just yesterday, The Unicode Consortium sprang six dozen new emoji on the public, including – for those of you wondering when you’d be able to insert a cartoon image of a pregnant woman into your text message – a pregnant woman.

The implications for your business are as yet unclear. But, as Luke Stark, a media historian and qualitative social scientist, told The New York Times this week, “There is a constant push and pull between people finding new ways to express themselves online, and companies trying to make money off that expression.”

What does this mean for your public relations efforts, your stakeholder engagement? If your audience comprises mostly Millennials or younger, perhaps the integration of emoji into your website, position papers, and blogs will pay off in more participatory and loyal customers. But if you’re, say, a bank that dates back to when Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were duking it out over direct current and alternating current, which now offers a $250 bonus for new checking accounts with a minimum balance of $10,000 – not so much.

In other words, an email sprinkled with emoji could just as easily delight as deflate your customers.

It could be argued that illuminated manuscripts (we’re talkin’ ’bout you, Book of Kells) were the original emoji-laden texts, what with their colorful glyphs of serpents, fish, frogs, and fowl. But at least those images were masterfully drawn and were not simply frivolous addenda to the text.

So, business leaders and owners, use emoji at your own risk. Also, know your audience/your customers. And perhaps be comforted by the fact that If you run into trouble, the Knight Canney Group is here to help you with any and all emoji-centric crisis communications.

Just remember, the more ubiquitous the use of emoji, the more you might be contributing to the downfall of civilization. As Apple’s own Craig Federighi jokingly told the Worldwide Developers Conference attendees, “Children of tomorrow will have no understanding of the English language.”

ICELAND: PR Savvy And Connected To The World

Iceland: PR Savvy and Connected to the World. Who knew?

How can a whole country be PR and marketing savvy? The country in question is Iceland. It helps that the entire population is fewer than 333,000, and that more than two thirds of that population is concentrated in the business-centric capital of Reykjavik and its immediate environs. Despite centuries of seclusion from the rest of the world, modern Iceland may be the most connected place on Earth. Nearly 97% of the population can access the Internet and is busy spreading invitations to come visit and invest.

More than one million people—nearly three times the country’s population—now visit Iceland every year.

Recently, I was one of them. A business trip with lots of pleasure thrown in, found me in Iceland for six days. From the quirky and appealing factoids displayed on in-flight screens by Icelandair.

(“Despite their obsession with modern technology, 80% of the population believes in elves, trolls, and ghosts.”) to the visitor-friendly, multi-lingual service economy, Iceland is on a mission to make visitors—and investors—feel welcome. (WOW Airlines may have the PR edge, however, with its co-promotion with Tinder. “Flirt your way to Iceland.”)

As the country emerges from its 2008 financial collapse, there is still uncertainty regarding the pending lifting of capital controls. The controls are credited with stabilizing the currency, but also are blamed for hampering foreign investment. That investment is beginning to increase.

In the meantime, it seems that public relations and marketing in the realm of encouraging tourism and investment has become everyone’s business.

A visit to the Iceland Ocean Cluster is a prime example. The creation of Dr. Thor Sigfússon, its founder and CEO, the Iceland Ocean Cluster is all about creating greater value in marine-related industries, but it does so primarily by connecting people. Yes, there’s research, invention, and innovation, but those efforts are allowed to incubate and prosper, by making the right connections through networking, tours, and consultation. Investors find what excites them, what’s compatible with their interests and industry, while entrepreneurs find the means to realize their vision for adding value to the marine economy.

What they do at the Iceland Ocean Cluster is covered by media outlets as diverse as Iceland Fishing News Magazine and HA Magazine on Icelandic Design and Architecture.

And Sigfússon has exported his idea to the U.S. He and a local business partner in Maine will open the New England Ocean Cluster House in 2016.

With the possibility of an Arctic route opening a shorter more direct trade path to Asia (thanks, I’m afraid, to the warming climate), Iceland is poised to connect to the rest of the world in ways it never has before. The country with the oldest parliamentary government (est. 930 by its Viking forefathers) is turning out to be the newest big thing.

Will Millennials Pay for Your Content? Good Luck With That.

Will Millennials Pay for Content? Good Luck With That.

Our friends at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and the American Press Institute are back with a new survey about Millennials. Actually, it’s a new look at the earlier survey that examines the information Millennials consume – and that which they disregard. We’ve written about this survey before, specifically the part regarding how Millennials get their news. Last spring, the data allowed us to be hopeful. We were told:

  • 85% of Millennials say keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important
  • 69% get news daily

Well, researchers have taken a deeper dive into those data and have come up with some new insights regarding not only what is worth the Millennials’ time, but also their money. Producers of movies, TV shows, or music can relax. Some Millennials will pay for your product. Producers of news? Millennials are just not that into you:

  • 77 percent paid in the last year for movies and television
  • 69 percent for cable
  • 54 percent for music
  • 51 percent for video games
  • 30 percent for print magazine or newspaper subscriptions. Ouch.

We also learned that Millennials are more special than perhaps other generations have given them credit for. Some of us are Baby Boomers, some are Gen Xers, and some are from the Greatest Generation. But, it turns out Millennials come in four categories. At least as far as their Internet and news consumerism is concerned.

  • The Unattached – Younger (18-24). They pay for very little of anything, seek to be entertained, and news is something that happens… somewhere else.
  • The Explorers – Also 18-24, but find social and civic value in keeping abreast of current events.
  • The Distracted – Older (25 to 34). They’ve begun to settle down but are preoccupied with establishing careers and starting families. They don’t seek news and they certainly don’t pay for it.
  • The Activists – The Activists are ethnically diverse, also 25 to 34 but they actively seek news and the majority of The Activists (51%) will pay for a digital or print news subscription.

This is a lot of confusing information for marketers and PR professionals.

For decades, we’ve been told that the consumer your clients want most is in that key demographic of 18-to-49-year olds. Within that Holy Grail demo sit the Millennials. Some of them will look for entertainment and news content, some of them will not. Some of them will pay for entertainment and news content, some of them will not. And some of them will pay for none of it. So where to put the content you want them to see?

The Millennials continue to confound the other generations. Will The Unattached, The Explorers, and The Distracted Millennials grow into The Activists?  Stay tuned. There should be another survey along any minute….