I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.


Taking on the Truth Manglers


      (Image from THX Media Director)

At few times is truth in greater jeopardy than when activists decide to campaign against a company or government policy it perceives is guilty of some wrong or of being wrong-headed. In the interest of client confidentiality I can't give examples from my own experience. But believe me I have compelling personal evidence that some activist campaigners simply won't let a fact get in the way of a "good" campaign.

So what's a company or organization to do?

An article in Ethical Corporation about Asian Pulp and Paper's troubles with its Indonesian forest operations says "For a company in campaigners’ sights, there are essentially three options: fight back with facts, engage your opponents or hide."

Facts don't work because they cower in the presence of a gut-wrenching visual, preferably of a doe-eyed something or other. And hiding does nothing except leave the field to the truth manglers. Engagement is an option sometimes, but only if the activist campaigners are interested in solving problems rather than shouting and posturing.

There is a fourth option. In an article in The Atlantic about the Gawker media world, James Fallows comments "Maybe the answer to a flawed narrative is to change the narrative".

This works for companies as it does for journalism. Companies can "own" their own content on the social web, so there is no reason alternative - truthful -  narratives can't be told convincingly. No reason, that is, other than a willingness to tell a story in the way people "choose (stories) when they have a chance" . . . ones that are visually compelling and use frank, personal and ingenuous language.

If a company, for example, would produce and post a video with as much heart and simplicity as this one by Greenpeace, then the truth of some issues or "problems" might be less in jeopardy.


Reputation About the Small Things

Sometimes reputation is not about the big campaigns, the grand philanthropic gestures or CEO thought leadership, but about small, generous acts and other things´╗┐ done really well.

The picture is of Anse Chastanet, a resort in St. Lucia owned by a Canadian. As you can tell, the resort is gorgeous, isolated, quiet, and beautifully situated on the side of a mountain. My wife and I spent a week there a couple of weeks ago.

But this isn't about the resort so much as it is about the executive chef, Ivan Silk who is not only a top notch chef but a remarkably gracious and attentive host.

Let me explain. I have a gluten intolerance (Celiac's Disease) which means I can't eat wheat, rye or barley. Managing meals is tougher than it seems when you travel. Usually I struggle at each meal to explain to waiters the limitations of the intolerance and hope they get it right when passing my order to the kitchen.

Before going to Anse Chastanet my wife sent a short note asking to meet with someone from the kitchen staff at some point early in our stay. I wanted to identify myself in the hope that I would be recognized at meals as requiring some minimal accommodation.

What I got was the kind of attention I presume is the norm for celebrities. Immediately on our arrival, Ivan Silk met with me to express his willingness to do whatever was necessary to ensure I ate well. At each meal, he came to my table and reviewed everything on the menu, offering to make a special sauce to accompany any dish I wanted but couldn't have because of its ingredients.

Under Ivan's guidance, the kitchen staff baked gluten-free bread, made available to me at every meal. For dessert, he prepared a special flourless almond cake or Pavlova. And the day we departed, Ivan came to say goodbye and presented me with a full almond cake "in case you get hungry on the flight home".

The lesson for organizational reputation should be self-evident: Ivan's manners and attentiveness have accrued an enormous amount of equity for Anse Chastanet's reputation account.