Four Things About #fakenews


Another quarter has rolled around and I’ve written some more random opinions for MarketLeader magazine. As per last quarter, if you’re a WARC subscriber you can read it on their website but they allow me to stick the ‘original submitted version’ on here, as long as it carries the disclaimer “Unedited Version” and the credit “Reproduced with permission of Market Leader, the strategic marketing journal for business leaders. To subscribe visit© Copyright Warc and The Marketing Society.”

As a special bonus for BETC blog readers the ‘original submitted version’ omits a typo that was introduced in the version printed by Market Leader. Spot it and you might win a prize. (You won’t win a prize)

Here it is:

#fakenews is a cultural blob that incorporates the feelings that everyone is lying, that shouting is truth and that feelings trump facts. It’s not well-defined, it’s not easy to poke at, that’s probably its power. But I thought it was worth exploring because we’re all in the business of explanation and persuasion and we’re doing that in a #fakenews world. And, of course, it’s all our fault.

1. We Are The Problem

Ev Williams knows quite a lot about the internet. He was in at the invention of Blogger and Twitter. He did an interview with the New York Times recently and diagnosed the #fakenews problem like this: ”The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.”  What Mr Williams doesn’t have to say, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of, is that the mechanism that drives this behaviour is advertising. The internet rewards attention with cash because of advertising. We built that model. We didn’t build a model that rewards high quality content or trust-worthy media owners or decent editorial environments. We attempted to abstract all that away, reducing our metrics to disembodied qualities like ‘eyeballs’ and ‘clicks’. We forgot that there were people involved and that our decisions had consequences. It’s understandable, of course, we tried to create a complex, global, interactive media ecology from scratch in a dozen years or so. We were bound to get it wrong. Print newspapers have had several hundred years to sort it out and they’re not much better. But, this is where we are. Advertising is what makes it economically sensible for smart people in Macedonia to make up lies about US politics and put them on the internet.

2. It’s Just Going To Get Faker

The problem now is that all the news is just going to get faker. Machine learning is not far from making it trivially easy to generate, for instance, video of anyone saying anything. Look at the University of Washington’s Synthesising Obama project; they can take a piece of audio combine it with a bit of talking head video and make an entirely plausible video of Obama saying a thing he never said. That, of course, has been possible for a while with special effects and clever technicians, the problem now is that we’re a few years away from it being a 69p app on your phone, something you can do to anyone. This will be an annoyance for politicians and celebrities, but they’ll be able to prove the untruth through detailed, probably expensive evidence of being somewhere else at the time. But what happens when someone uses it to produce evidence of the staff in your shop abusing them? or of a sales person promising them an impossible deal? What happens when technology weaponises fraud and abuse? It’s going to be a mess.

3. The opposite of Fake is Open. And detailed. And boring. Not short sentences.

We’re also going to have to abandon some of the rhetorical styles of sales and marketing. I used to work at Nike’s advertising agency and we use to joke that our key advantage was that we could ‘fake authenticity’ better than anyone else. There are, or were, clear, well known stylistic, rhetorical flourishes that made communications feel ‘true’. Simple, blunt language. Plain-spoken-ness. Regular demotic speech. Short sentences. But that’s how Trump talks too. That’s how #fakenews is spread. That’s what Goop do. If you want a ‘trusted brand’ you’ll have to a) (obviously) be trust-worthy and b) be detailed and precise about explaining yourself. It will feel too long and too boring, it will feel like too much work. But the slogans aren’t working. Not everyone will read the detail but they’ll like to know that it’s there. Hopefully this will spell the end of the empty brand manifesto. All those short sentence. Saying nothing. At length. With that music.

4. Pay attention to the bottom of the page

Part of that detailed work will be at the bottom of your website where the caveats lurk. Clear, honest Terms and Conditions might be the best way to fight #fakenews. You’re probably rewriting them anyway because of GDPR so perhaps you could pay extra attention and really make them sing. Innocent smoothies made the words on the back of the bottle a competitive landscape, maybe GDPR will do the same for terms and conditions. 

(If you want to get a head start on thinking about this stuff have a look at what the design consultancy IF have put together at


Russell Davies is chief strategy officer at BETC, a contributing editor for Wired, and a relentless mucker-about on the internet. Follow @fourthingsabout on Twitter for a stream of links and articles related to this quarter’s topic.


8 Reasons You Should Join us at SearchLove London 2017

We’re closing in on SearchLove London – it’s on 16th and 17th October – in just a few short weeks’ time. We’ve been running a conference in our home city since 2009, and I’m as passionate as I’ve ever been about making our events stand out.

You can still get a ticket for under £900 – the classic all-access pass costs £899 +VAT – and get access to the whole conference as well as after-show entertainment on both nights.


Here’s why we think our show is special:

1. Quality

The combined outstanding and excellent ratings from a recent conference.

I obviously don’t generally get to see all the feedback other conferences get, but I’d bet ours is right upthere. At one of our recent events, our eight best speakers were all rated outstanding or excellent by over 9 out of 10 people in the audience. Even our twelfth-best speaker was rated outstanding or excellent by 4 out of 5 people in the audience. I’ve never seen another conference where the bottom quartile speaker ratings are still getting into the ~65% outstanding or excellent range.

Speaker quality and consistency is our top priority, and the most common complaint about conferences generally. With our conference being a single track show, we know everyone will see every speaker, so they all need to bring their A game, and they know it.

2. The speakers

We’ve invited some of the best speakers from Boston and San Diego to London 2017.

Speaking of the speakers(!) I’m so grateful to all the people who put such an incredible amount of work into preparing their talks – if you’ve never done it, you have no idea how much work and pressure it can be.

This year, we have:

  • Exceptional speakers: we often invite back speakers who do an exceptional job at our other conferences. Running events on both sides of the Atlantic might bump up our travel costs, but it lets us see great speakers with our own eyes before inviting them to our big stage:

    • To come in the top 4 at our San Diego conference this year, a speaker needed to get over 97% of the audience rating them outstanding or excellent. At this London event, we’re bringing 3 of those top 4 speakers back to wow you. (*)

    • In Boston earlier this year, our top 3 scored 94+% outstanding or excellent and we’re bringing all of them to London.

  • Returning favourites: 3 of the top 5 all-time best SearchLove speakers (looking at average scores from speakers who’ve appeared multiple times)

  • Brand new speakers: 11 of our 17 speakers have never appeared at SearchLove London before (and Paddy last spoke here in 2011 / Justin in 2012!). We’re confident they’re going to will blow you away (see below for more on our prep process)

(*) the other top-4 speaker was Greg Gifford (DistilledU members can see the videos here). It looks like we need to invite him over to London soon!

3. A great venue

The Brewery adds to the SearchLove london experience.

As a speaker, I’ve rarely come across a stage as good as the one at The Brewery. It’s a huge widescreen, with extra massive screens partway back so everyone can see my slides, the stage is huge, my face is projected far too big alongside the slides giving great trolling opportunities when I pull stupid faces, and the audio / visual setup is top-notch. I trust the A/V team to make me look and sound good, and I get to concentrate on my story.

As a delegate, you get a seat with a desk, power, notebook and pen. You get wifi that works, and you get top-notch food and great coffee. Join us for structured lunchtime work at our Topic Tables staffed by the Distilled team, or just hang out and catch up with friends new and old.

4. A taste of London

Enjoy your time in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

We know that many of our delegates travel to attend, and so we’ve picked our venues for the conference and entertainment to help you make the most of your trip to one of the greatest cities on the planet.

The Brewery is in The City of London – the historic Square Mile – so you’ll get a taste of the traditional. The entertainment is conveniently nearby, and you’re within easy walking distance of the buzzing Old Street technology hub (with its great hipster coffee) as well as Clerkenwell with its spectacular restaurants and fancy bars. Even in the time I’ve lived and worked in London, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the food and drink scene – all great excuses to make the trip to an incredible city.

If you want to spend a bit of time visiting London either side of the conference, you can be anywhere in the centre of London within 20-30 minutes by public transport, whether you want to see the tourist sights or do some shopping. If you want to extend your trip to the rest of the UK, you’re close to the Kings Cross and Euston stations that connect you to almost everywhere north of London (and even to St Pancras for Paris and the rest of Europe).


5. Access to experts, and the chance to meet friends old and new

We work hard to make networking with fellow attendees as enjoyable as possible.

We know that much of the value in attending a conference comes from meeting speakers and other delegates so we set up plenty of opportunities to do that:

  • VIP ticket-holders join the speakers for an exclusive pre-show dinner.

  • We have chosen to have a single-track event, with every speaker getting a full-length 40-minute session – this means that every other delegate has seen the same speakers you have, and so you’ll have plenty to chat about, and all our speakers will be very familiar to you and super-approachable

  • Plenty of opportunities to mingle and meet people – including structured and unstructured lunchtime sessions, regular breaks, a fantastic party on the first night and industry meet-up on the second (which even non-delegates can attend so invite your other London friends)

6. Past delegates would urge you to come

You might have noticed that I’m a bit obsessed with feedback. As part of the conference feedback, we ask our delegates to tell us how likely they are to recommend our conference (out of 10). From this, we calculate a Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS ranges from -100 to +100, with anything over 50 being excellent. Last year’s London conference rated a 55 with almost half the delegates surveyed (44%) giving it the top possible score of 10.

7. Coming from overseas? It’s cheaper than ever

Without getting too political about it all, our currency has been fluctuating a bit over the last year, and so right now, our tickets come in at only:

  • EUR 1,021

  • USD 1,212

There has to be some silver lining, right? If you’re coming from the US or Europe, the exchange rate has never been more in your favour. Your money goes further!

8. We’re working hard to address all the criticisms we’ve seen of marketing conferences

It turns out good coffee is high on people’s conference priorities.

The other day, I put out a call on Twitter to ask for everyone’s common complaints about marketing conferences because I want to make sure that we are doing our very best to avoid them – whether they’re big complaints or small details:

  • We take our code of conduct very seriously and work hard to make our events welcoming and inclusive for all – and I’ve heard good private feedback about our efforts:

    • We remind speakers about it during our prep calls

    • It’s emphasised during our MC’s intro

    • All our staff know what to do in the event of witnessing or receiving a report of a violation

  • We’ve got sessions on hardcore link building and deeply technical topics – we’ve got plenty on content and social, but we haven’t forgotten our roots

  • And a load of details:

    • The food is great – delegate comments:

      • “the general organisation and food etc. were top notch”

      • “really good food”

      • “great food”

      • “great venue and food”

    • The wifi works

      • “good wifi”

    • We have great coffee

      • “coffee was awesome”

    • Complaint: lanyards can be hard to read or flip over. Our lanyards have names printed on both sides – hopefully big enough to read easily

But of course, by far the most common issue people have is with speaker and talk quality. I talked a fair bit above about our speakers but we are by no means assuming that we’ve done all we need to do – we continue to run a speaker selection and preparation process that involves:

  1. Detailed research, including watching previous footage, reviewing past decks etc

  2. Discussion of topic ideas that the speaker has new and interesting ideas about

  3. Content calls with me or a senior Distilled team member to set expectations, discuss the outline, and share information about the conference and audience

  4. Where appropriate / for any speaker that wishes: review and feedback on actual talk outlines and draft decks

We also encourage first-time speakers to review footage of past top-rated sessions and speakers.

I asked a few of our speakers for their thoughts on our speaker prep process. They said:

Emily Grossman:

“The SearchLove team really sets speakers up for success. It all starts with initial planning brainstorms where we talk about the best topic-fit for SearchLove. Will, Lynsey, and the whole team are very open about what works and doesn’t work for their audience. As a speaker, this helps shape how I’ll approach a certain subject and allows me to really tailor both my topic and my deck to the SL crowd.”

Greg Gifford:

Sam Noble:

What are you waiting for?

There’s still time to pick up your ticket, but time is running out. Click the link below and pick up your ticket today. Reply in the comments if there are any last-minute questions you’re burning to ask.

Join us for SearchLove London 2017

Why This Company Implemented A Learning Sabbatical For Its Employees

A sabbatical doesn’t have to involve traveling to a far-flung location.

Here at Buffer, we believe in constant experimentation and self-improvement. You might know this if you’ve followed along with our experiments in self-management or making regular changes to our vacation policy to try and find the best fit. This time, we’re experimenting with teammates taking a learning sabbatical.

Read Full Story

Understanding the German Federal Election Results

By Axel Wallrabenstein, Chairman, MSL Germany What is the election result? Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in yesterday’s German federal election. However, with losses of 8.5% her position is weakened, and this is likely to be her last term as Chancellor. Following their worst result in post-war history (20.5%; -5.2%), the Social Democrats […]

The post Understanding the German Federal Election Results appeared first on MSLGROUP’s Blog Critical Conversations: Critical Conversations.

Connect the dots

“Alexa. Jeopardy!”

Mary and I play the New York Times Mini Crossword every morning. Jeopardy every night. We don’t play for fun. We play to win, and therein lies DNA for future brand experiences.

I remember walking on the Boston Common last summer, a family meet-up and movie night. The Common was set-up with Capital One’s summer concert experience, so I wandered over to take a look. What I discovered was that only a few people were listening to the main stage music, fewer still in the VIP area. Everything had been set-up perfectly, but not many were engaged.

My phone buzzed. The brood was hungry. Still, I thought it a perfect time to show off some of what I do. Even if not well attended, we were standing in a well-designed and well-funded sponsorship activation.

“Take a look at these brand experiences,” I declared pointing at GEICO’s Airstream, LL Bean’s Pop-up Tent and Red Bull’s eighteen-wheeler, all of whom surrounded the Main Stage.

“Each of these are million dollar experiences,” I added.

The kids, not all that interested, remained glued to their phones deep into finding Pokémon Go! rewards.

“Dad, take a look around. What do you see?” my son prompted.

Scanning the Common, I noticed hundreds of people searching for something.

“They’re all playing Go!” he offered, showing me his virtual world. There might have been as many people wandering as there were watching the concert. For now, Go! is gone, but that moment sticks with me.

In a world where we are all literally looking at one screen or another 30% of the day, we now naturally combine the addictive nature of social media with our daily lives. As we walk, talk, and work, we’re no looker looking at each other or our surroundings, and yet we are engaged, much to the chagrin of anyone over forty. A hundred years ago, the radio was frightening too.

Today, we’re talking to our computers in earnest. Alexa, Siri and the others are in our cars, homes and heads. They offer a new kind of experience, a conversational one, featuring some of the same dopamine hits as the ones kids were chasing last summer.

I love Alexa, talk to her every morning and every evening. I love Facebook, post pictures and essays daily. I love the NY Times Mini, compete with all the generations of my family for fastest time. This is all social, competitive, and fun. The brands who mix it up and mix it in will win.

When I say “Alexa. Jeopardy!”, the music starts and Alex Trebek announces, “This! Is Jeopardy.”

I say, “This is life!” These, the new brand experiences. And the companies who connect the Dots are going to win.

The post Connect the dots appeared first on Jack Morton.

Getting a Seat at the Table: The UN General Assembly

When world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York every fall – known to insiders simply as “UNGA” or “UN Week,” private sector executives, non-profit leaders and foreign governments alike converge on the city to vie for a spot in the conferences, media frenzy, parties and meetings that go on in the sidelines of the debate. Though public relations professionals can’t mitigate the Manhattan traffic jams that put parts of the island into periods of gridlock, industry professionals can help their clients seize the moment for issues that matter most. Few understand the mechanics of this high-level convergence of private, public and sovereign leaders, and with U.S. President Donald Trump making his UNGA debut today, analysts are more on their toes this year than ever.

The seventy-second session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) confronts a crowded agenda. It will be dominated by questions on traditional hard power issues including the U.S.’s role in the world under a Trump administration, the North Korean nuclear issue and the fate of the Iran deal. Climate change will also top the agenda in the aftermath of monsoons in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that killed more than 1,200 people this summer, as Hurricane Jose makes its way up the U.S. east coast and Hurricane Maria crashes the Caribbean, and amid uncertainty over the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris climate accord. As the world increasingly looks toward the private sector for answers to some of the world’s most vexing problems, UNGA gives business leaders the opportunity to insert their perspectives into these debates and to restate their commitments to global initiatives, including the UN’s ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. It also gives non-profit leaders the chance to highlight their agendas and liaise with donors and partners. And it gives foreign leaders a podium to address the issues most pressing to their citizens on the global stage, speak to a diverse range of audiences and engage with new partners and stakeholders.

With so much going on, what does it take to get your seat at the table?

Speaking Your Mind

Every year, a host of events are held on the sidelines of UNGA. In territory previously held by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), multiple conferences have proliferated. For 2017, the Concordia Summit, the Social Good Summit, the Global Citizen Festival, Climate Week and this year’s first-ever Bloomberg Global Business Forum are just some of the places where leaders from across sectors will convene to engage on pressing international issues. Speaking slots at these conferences are ripe opportunities to take advantage of the groundswell of activity and exposure. Public relations professionals can help clients identify marquee venues and secure the right commitments to address target audiences. Especially as platforms fracture to more issue-based and sponsor-specific events this year in lieu of CGI, public relations professionals can work with clients to navigate this new landscape – or help host salon dinners and targeted meetings to connect more directly.

Knowing the Landscape

If you are a group focused on nuclear issues for instance, you not only need to know the right venues for your voice to be heard but must also understand the larger ecosystem around the UN—its partner foundations, think tanks and other conveners of thought leadership platforms around your issue. And you must recognize not only those influencing the conversation surrounding nuclear issues but also be able to anticipate the trajectory of where that policy conversation may head during the meetings. Public relations professionals have the tools to map and target these trends.

This year, Burson-Marsteller worked to produce dozens of briefing memos for leaders of a prominent international organization, including an in-depth analysis of a critical geopolitical issue at play. With foresight on where the policy conversation around this issue could head, the Burson-Marsteller team was also able to identify the most important players in shaping this dialogue and target outreach to them.

For another key client, Burson-Marsteller outlined a plan for a high-visibility media event as well as a specialized social media outreach program targeted to key geographies and outlets to ensure that messages reached the right audiences.

Dispatching Your Message

The press corps covering the UN General Assembly is a unique cast of players, including New York reporters, Washington-based journalists, international press and UN correspondents. Public relations professionals have eyes on this constantly evolving media space and can tap into their networks to secure high-level interviews, broadcast hits and op-ed real estate in the right outlets.

Going Around the Globe

It’s not all happening in New York. Audiences worldwide give special watch to events surrounding the UN General Assembly. Burson-Marsteller has engaged its global network to make sure that onlookers across the world are tuned in to your message—from hosting events, engaging media, developing social media programs or building coalitions.

Finding Your Seat

As thousands meet in Manhattan to examine some of the world’s shared challenges and opportunities at the UN General Assembly, public relations professionals are well-placed to help clients develop a strategic plan for engagement, provide foresight on major players and policy trajectories, navigate on the ground and sustain momentum around key issues. Make sure you find your seat at the table, and as UN Week comes to a close, know that some of us are already gearing up to support clients similarly for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this January 24 to 27, 2018.

This post was contributed by Mike Fernandez, U.S. CEO, Burson-Marsteller.

In conversation with… Claire Partington

So, what’s your story? (a little bit about yourself and your background)

I’m an artist based in North West London. I studied Sculpture at St Martins in the 90s and got a bit deluded and lost the joy and spontaneity of just making stuff. I had various random jobs before I got a job I enjoyed at The British Library Sound Archive. Then I had a number of museum/exhibition jobs and did my post grad in Museum Studies whilst working at the V&A. But I went back to working with sound, this time at Mute Records and I started going to ceramics workshop evening classes across the canal at Kensington & Chelsea College. Fortunately, I contacted my gallery at this stage and he was selling works I made whilst at evening class. This enabled me to slowly grow my practice, set up a studio and make my art my full time career.


How did you develop a love for making art?

I’ve always made things. I grew up in a busy house full of stuff that I could use to make various objects. I really enjoyed plasticine, and would make quite elaborate scenes that would gather dust, so working with clay is very similar. My mum was always making stuff for the house, upholstery and refurbishing furniture, so I used her off-casts too, and she’s always been very encouraging.


What techniques do you use?

Most of my ceramic sculpture is made in earthenware, but I do make stoneware and porcelain now and then. The pieces are all built from the base up as hollow vessels using coils of clay (like sausages). The coils are smoothed together and I shape the figure as I build upwards. The pieces are refined and sculpted and then I add sprigged decoration, which is clay pushed into plaster moulds that I make from things like jewellery or toys – like the raised decoration you get on Wedgwood vases. The pieces are fired, glazed and then I use digital enamel transfers or paint onto the surface with enamels and metal lustres. In total, the process can take up to four months, but I have a number of figures in production at the same time.


Which work are you most proud of, and why?

Of the current work, I’m most proud of ‘Lilith’. She’s not so highly decorated as most of my work as she doesn’t have any clothes, but she’s got great hair! She’s based on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s many paintings of Lucretia committing suicide with her dagger to her chest. My Lilith is the first woman (before Eve) who was cast out of Eden for not being subservient enough. My figure is holding her bronze dagger towards the viewer and isn’t ashamed of her nakedness or fleshy thighs. She’s based on Cranach’s model who has a very particular shape. I’m very interested in the male gaze and the notions of beauty that shift with history and culture.

The figure also has a Staffordshire bull terrier at her side. I thought about making this a dragon in reference to the medieval origins of this piece, but I’ve given her a contemporary fierce protector dog and she wears her hair in a contemporary plaited style in reference to the elaborate Medieval plated styles. I’ve also made enamel pilgrim badges of this figure to give to visitors on the opening night in reference to the medieval pilgrimage sites and the souvenir badges that were available at the time. My souvenir badges are more reminiscent of those available at cathedral shops or railway museums – a modern pilgrimage.


What’s the story behind one or more of the works in this gallery?

My work generally deals with narrative, symbolism, gender and status. I’m interested in symbols and how people use them to identify with certain social groups. I’m also interested in imposed societal restrictions and social types, whether it’s gender stereotypes or repressive social constructs – including historical costume. My work also deals with the long European tradition of appropriation and reinterpretation of design styles, fashions and cultures and that’s very evident in the Lilith figure with the gold Fulani earrings and her plaited hair.


Remember, our 3×3 instagallery is refreshed every month. Catch our latest one hereOr see more of Claire’s work here.