PR giant Weber Shandwick wants to help brands combat fake articles, narratives about them

Crisis communication is PR 101, and it often means a company is putting out a fire that it started on its own (oops). But what does a brand do in the face of an arsonous mob?

Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s largest public-relations firms, announced a new division last week focused on helping brands combat misinformation and disinformation that may implicate them.

The company makes the case that, while the spread of false information is often viewed as a political or public safety concern, it can also end up dragging an unwitting brand’s name through the mud.

  • For example, Wayfair was the subject of a QAnon-tied conspiracy theory last year that accused the furniture retailer of enabling a child-trafficking ring.
  • Voting-technology companies like Dominion and Smartmatic dealt with a firestorm of false claims about miscounted votes in the wake of the 2020 election.
  • Earlier this month, Walmart said it was the subject of a “fake news release” that claimed the retailer would begin a partnership with crytopcurrency Litecoin.

Weber Shandwick chief innovation officer Chris Perry told Marketing Brew that, in addition to reputational harm, companies can “face financial implications like boycotts or stock-price impact, dips in employee morale, and even physical or emotional harm from actions like doxxing” as a result of fake stories.

The company’s Media Security Center is pitched as a way for brands to prepare and respond to these kinds of incidents. The firm said it will provide “bespoke solutions that protect reputations and commercial interests.” It will also offer training to clients’ marketing teams about how misinformation spreads, as well as access to Blackbird.AI, a disinformation monitoring platform.

“Any successful media security approach begins with deeper learning about the risks, actors, motivations, and potential outcomes of disinformation specific to a company/brand,” Perry wrote in an email to Marketing Brew. “And because of the size and rapidly evolving nature of these threats, virtually no company is adequately prepared.”

Bottom line: With the new center, the firm is presenting the concept of “media security” as a key part of a brand’s corporate strategy alongside things like cybersecurity and brand safety.—ZS