What is the currency of truth?

What is the currency of truth?

Gordana Buccisano, EVP global client transformation, Havas Media Group and chair of the World Media Group explains the importance of trust in the relationship between publisher, brand and consumer

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded by communication, sifting through the millions of data points to decipher what’s true and meaningful would be practically impossible without the interventions of reputable media sources. But having a free press is a luxury that we’ve taken for granted – that is, until recently.

In the latest World Media Group podcast, Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders, said that alarmingly, its World Press Freedom Index shows that press freedom is declining everywhere year by year.

In the west, and particularly in the UK, we’ve relied on trusted media sources to provide us with valid, impartial information and to keep governments and administrations in check. During the Trump presidency, however, the freedom of the press was tested to its limits.

As the era of ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories has shown, when media is not validated, it can become an alternative truth, which often manifests in extreme, one-sided opinions designed to cause polarisation. The role of the quality media is to cut through the misinformation and disinformation to provide clear, trustworthy content to its audience.

For brands wishing to reach those audiences, having the appropriate media partnerships in place is essential. But as a consumer, how do you validate that trust?

The trust criteria equation

As individuals, we all have our own trust criteria embedded around our values and influenced by societal and cultural factors – from our upbringing to the jobs we do, to the places we live. The question for publishers, and the brands they partner with, is how to attach themselves to a consumer’s trust criteria.

As Havas Media Group’s client transformation leader and guardian of client interest, my role is to ensure my clients partner with meaningful and referenceable publishers that won’t damage their brand’s reputation, but it’s not just about finding the right platform. It’s important to consider where the brand and publisher meet in relation to the consumer too.

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It’s what I call ‘the trust criteria equation’: the perfect marriage of a brand partnering with a reputable media publisher to create content that ticks the right boxes for a consumer’s own values.

For publishers, the trust criteria is represented by journalistic integrity. As a brand it’s about delivering on your customer value proposition – what you are trying to do for the consumer.

A brand like Nike, for example, which has taken on a huge social responsibility through its alliance with Black Lives Matter, needs to have its own trust criteria in place to ensure its communication travels effectively via media channels to deliver content that matches consumers’ values and expectations.

Maintaining the equilibrium of trust

When working effectively, the three elements in the equation should come together in perfect harmony, but if one equation is disrupted, problems start to occur.

As a brand, it’s easy to see the negative impact of your content being shown in an undesirable environment, one with potential links to controversial content. Likewise, imagine the implications for a publisher that partners with a brand that’s overtly racist or sexist. These negative associations have an impact on everyone within the trust criteria equation – brand, media partner and the end consumer.

We therefore all have a role to play in maintaining the equilibrium. As a media agency, our role is to help a client to navigate the equation by recommending and facilitating partnerships with the media brands that best match their own trust criteria. That’s why Havas has joined the Conscious Advertising Network with the view that we need to act with greater knowledge of our impact on this trust equation.

Marketers have to think about what they can control: by aligning their trust criteria with that of a quality publisher in order to deliver their consumer truth, they minimise their risk.

If you choose to work with an outlet that doesn’t have the same trust criteria as your brand, you have to accept that you are taking a calculated risk. The trust equation is likely to be disrupted. Then the question becomes: can your brand or publisher recover from the fallout of any potential reputational damage as a result?

Protecting the freedom of the press

For reputable media brands, the trust criteria is built on legacy and reputation, impartiality, fact-checking, original content and relevant context, all of which relies on the foundation of having a free press. We may tell ourselves that it’s only authoritarian regimes that control their media, but the last few weeks of the Trump presidency showed what can happen to a voice that goes unchecked and lacks verification.

Just imagine the impact of the US elections if the outcome had been different; the consequences for the free press – and for democracy as a whole – could have been potentially devastating.

The trust criteria equation ensures that publishers, media agencies and brands are all working to achieve the same high ethical standards.

As a result, audiences are able to break through the clutter of misinformation to make informed decisions, brands earn their consumers’ respect by delivering on their brand promise successfully, and quality publishers maintain the credibility and trust required to be the guardians of our freedom and democracy.

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