Fake news, fake news! Read all about it!” It’s a bit of an oxymoron – news about fake news – and the lines are blurred, making it harder to distinguish what is truly “real”.

You would have been hard-pressed to miss the recent speculation around the potential Russian influence on the US presidential elections. It has now been confirmed that Facebook helped endorse Russian content, reaching 126 million Americans. Claims – such as Hilary Clinton having a 69% disapproval rate among veterans- circulated around the social network, influencing voters.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook is now undergoing a major revamp. As of next month, it will be introducing measures to increase ad transparency, allowing users to simply click and view all the ads being run by one organisation. The policy will be particularly tight on political adverts, which will have to be fully vetted and clearly state any political intent.

It’s not only Facebook that is hoping to clear the smoke screen around its advertising. Twitter has also just launched an Advertising Transparency Centre after its potential role in helping to promote Russian-backed content. This centre lets users view all the ads running on Twitter, making it public knowledge as to who buys what ads and even letting users report ads that they simply don’t like.

But is this all just too little, too late? Some may argue that the damage has already been done and that the trust and faith of the public has already been irretrievably lost.

So, what does this mean for the wider industry? How is this impacting and reflecting on marketers and PRs? After all, we do generate news and content, but people are now more likely to believe search engines than human editors. How then, can we win (back) the public’s trust? And in the so-deemed “post-truth era” how can PR be more transparent?  

The customer is always right

First and foremost, with the recent revelations from Facebook and Twitter (among many others), there is a huge increase in public demand for transparency – so give consumers what they want.

The public’s opinion is critical and can influence a company’s reputation – just one negative review, comment or social media post can have a big impact. But, if a brand is upfront about what it is doing and keeps its customers properly informed, there should be less room for misinterpretation, discrediting those who make unfounded claims. Proper transparency is all about letting customers have a say and creating a real, two-way conversation between brands and the public.

On the other hand, if you are evasive and cagey, it will convince the public that you do have something to hide – even if you don’t. Few of us have forgotten that infamous Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard, the epitome of the importance of just answering the question.

Be yourself

When it comes to transparency, it’s important to establish a real understanding of who you are and what your business stands for, then you can work on promoting this message to the public. Even though businesses change through time, it’s important to keep hold of your core values – most of us still remember when Google removed ‘don’t be evil’ from its motto back in 2015!

Every market is saturated, but a straightforward, unique voice can help cut through the noise and make sure you stand out for the right reasons. A continuous message will also help to build up recognisability and eventually, trust.

Don’t over promise either, instead create authenticity. Yes, promote everything that the company can do and what is great about it, but also be open about its limitations. Failing to deliver will have far worse consequences than outlining what you will not do, and runs the risk of completely alienating even the most loyal of customers.

Honesty is the best policyhonest!

When something goes wrong, be honest about it.

It is far better to admit a mistake and nip it in the bud than for the issue to be swept under the rug and re-surface at a later date, from an outside source. If you admit the problem first, you have more say and control over how the problem is communicated to the public – you can tell your story, rather than letting someone else play storyteller and potentially making the situation much worse.

Putting your cards on the table can also help to dispel any anger or worry around the situation. Frank openness always elicits a more positive response, generating a greater feeling of trust.

But remember, it is not enough to simply talk about the problem, you also need to show what you are doing to resolve it. Take action, don’t just talk.

“Fake news” may be THE word of 2017, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we should all jump on the bandwagon. Half-truths or using ‘truthful facts’ to deceive the public will also eventually come back to bite you. To shine through the muddy waters of today’s news, be transparent and you will make your brand’s voice and message crystal clear.

Niall O’Malley talks to Claire Walker about joining Firefly in 2002 and his time organising press events and liaising with venues via fax. Whereas he believes these events (and faxing) are very much things of the past, Niall addresses a growing disenchantment with new media and the possibility of a swing back to traditional media. With the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter going public, and having to find new revenue streams, Niall expects to see an increase in the amount of unsolicited content. With all this noise, he believes there will still be a need for clean, reliable, authoritative journalism.

Gareth casts his mind back to 1988 when, in his role as a journalist, everything was done over the phone or in person. Claire and Gareth discuss whether email will ever really substitute face to face contact and the importance of PR people remembering “we’re in a people business”.

Gareth also talks about the fundamental differences between weekday and Sunday papers, which few still truly understand.

Looking to the future, Gareth predicts greater transparency for listed companies as interactive reporting such as webcasting of shareholder meetings becomes a requirement.

Claire Walker talks to former Firefly, Ashley Scott, about the past, present and future of PR. Ashley reflects on the changing nature of media relations and the importance of building relationships with journalists, as opposed to the old method of mass press release distribution, which resulted in stacks of coverage (times have definitely changed).

Ashley also discusses the opportunities and challenges of today’s many customer touch points and working closely with Virgin Media’s social media team to make sure messages are consistent.

Claire Walker talks to former Firefly and current director of communications at Absolute Radio, Cat Macdonald.

Cat looks back at her time spent creating physical coverage books and using a ruler to measure the size of newspaper coverage when she first started in the industry. She explains how social media, as we know it today, will change rapidly over the coming years and why it will be a big challenge for the PR industry to keep up.


Claire Walker speaks to current Firefly client, Gill Hawkins, director of marketing communications at Savvis about the past, present and future of PR. Gill talks about the demise of the press conference, the changing nature of the press release and how any agency that doesn’t have digital and social as part of their offering is “dead on the water”.

In the latest interview of our #firefly25 anniversary series, Claire speaks to former Firefly, Lee Stone. Lee worked at Firefly in the 90s and then spent many years in Australia’s PR industry, before returning home. Lee now works at EE with Mat Sears, another former Firefly. During those early days Lee did not enjoy his many hours standing by the photocopier and fax machine and thinks feature planning is passé as the current environment is so dynamic. Lee believes that although technology is central to our lives, relationships are key and need working on every day.


In the fourteenth interview of our #firefy25 anniversary series, Andy Rogers, director of communications at CEDR (the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), and former Firefly, speaks to Claire Walker about the past, present and future of PR.  Andy discusses the need for collaboration with journalists in the modern era of PR, rather than the ‘Russian roulette’ approach of old, whether the office phone will survive and how having a groundswell of supporters will be an essential part of campaigns of the future.


In the thirteenth interview of our #firefy25 anniversary series, Mat Sears, previously a Firefly employee – and now director of PR and corp comms at EE – is interviewed by Claire Walker, Firefly’s founder and CEO.  Mat reminisces about hours spent pulling together coverage books by hand (and then using them to wedge open doors). He reflects on the huge pressure faced by modern journalists and how he hopes there’ll once again be an opportunity for PRs and journalists to step away from their PCs and interact face-to-face.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information