PR in the Age of Fake News

Parts of this post have been adapted from Jennifer Tolhurst's article, "Five Ways Brands Can Combat Fake News with Press Releases." Jennifer Tolhurst is a manager of Customer Content Services at PR Newswire. 

When Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, suggested in 1992 that the only thing that might travel faster than light is bad news - “which obeys its own special laws” - he was writing in the dwindling twilight of the pre-Internet age. How could he have known that lurking just around the bend of the 21st century was another kind of news that would travel even faster?

Fake news proliferates through the two-headed monster of gossip and outrage. It is in no way dependent on facts, and has a seemingly limitless ability to influence public opinion. Some say it has even altered world events.

Let’s be clear: fake news is real, and there are people out there willing to groundlessly stoke the fires for no other reason than making a quick buck. But while the effects of getting caught in a fake news cycle can be devastating, there are ways you can protect yourself and your business. And it all starts with a good PR strategy.


Fake news, Google and Facebook

Ever since the 2016 U.S election, Google and Facebook – two of the main places that internet users get their news from nowadays – have been under increased pressure to do something about the spread of fake news. Facebook has taken direct public action in regards to the phenomenon, putting a “questionable content” tag on suspicious news stories. Google, meanwhile, has search algorithms that prioritize results from trusted sources, boosting SEO at the expense of less well known sites.

But while traffic and high rankings in search results do eventually go to the organizations that deserve them, that won’t do as much good in the short term for those caught dealing with the blowback of a bad news cycle. This is when you’re going to have to fall back on the credibility of your brand and your best reputation management tactics.


Distribution is still a powerful way for brands to cut through the noise and share credible, accurate news with journalists. Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report found that news releases and story leads are the most valued PR resource amongst journalists and influencers.

To this end, CNW (via PR Newswire’s Jennifer Tolhurst) has put together five essential distribution guidelines that will help guarantee your organization stays in control of the stories that affect it.


1. Straightforward Headline
The headline is perhaps the most important part of your news release, as it will likely determine whether your reader will bother engaging with the rest of your content. Resist the urge to sensationalize and make sure what you write is clear, concise and truthful: think of it as an honest teaser of what’s to come. Include your company or brand name, and consider attaching a logo, so it’s clear to journalists and your audience where this news originated from.

2. Clear Attribution
Confidence is essential if you want to stay in the driver’s seat of the conversations that are affecting your organization, but gaining the public’s trust takes more than broad declarations and colourful language. Be upfront when making statements of analysis or opinion, be clear with your attributions, and include good links to corroborate your claims whenever possible. All of this extends to quotes as well, which provide easy copy for journalists to use and add a “human element” to news stories.

3. Distribute your release through a credible organization
All news releases distributed by CNW include a note indicating the “Source” organization. This tells journalists and other readers which company or group is responsible for the information. Since the media knows that CNW vets all organizations we work with, they can rely that the news received through our distribution networks is authentic. Let CNW’s reputation – which we’ve been building since the 1960s – work for you.

4. Media Contact
Your media contact should be a real person with a working phone number and an email address. Journalists prefer not to be directed to a 1-800 number or a website – not to mention that a real media contact will further enhance your credibility.

5. Authentic Voice
Once you’ve gained your audience’s trust, work to maintain it. Tell the whole truth and don’t exaggerate. If you make claims, back them up. Finally, stay true to your brand identity and look for opportunities to engage with the conversation in novel ways. Demonstrating your company’s expertise, like when a financial institution writes about a recent change to the tax code, is a great way to build your reputation and stay relevant.


Above all be proactive with your PR strategy. It is much easier to build trust when your organization isn’t being forced to do damage control. If the worst does happen you’ll be glad you did.  When your content is ready, connect with a trusted distribution partner like CNW to help you engage with new and existing audiences and build out a news release distribution strategy that enhances your brand’s credibility and visibility.



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