Probing PR’s dirtiest bits

Well there’s a contentious little headline eh?

Don’t worry, it does not refer to four-hour lunches or behind-the-scenes arrangements with the media.

It does refer to a brief I’ve just agreed with the publisher Bloomsbury, along with my former colleague and long-serving mate Stephen Waddington, to write the follow-up to Brand Anarchy, a book that came out about a year ago.

The sequel, Brand Vandalism, has a brief to “explore the dirtiest corner of the audience – the people who are mobilising themselves to cause reputational damage in a war on the organisations they dislike”. So it’s unlikely to be a book for wimps.

Why is a PR Week blog post the right place for this potentially shameless piece of self-promotion? Well because this is hardly about selling books – if the first one had made me PR’s answer to J.K. Rowling, I’d hardly be sat here writing this post would I?

The point is that it’s a book that apparently many people in PR and with reputational concerns want to see written, but no-one has yet been able to tackle it. Which means there’s an important issue at hand here for PR, one that is causing real concern as media continues to evolve and one that as an industry we could benefit from getting to grips with. It is the perceived vulnerability that organisations and individuals now have to their worst public detractors voicing their discontent in the most disruptive way possible – by seeking not just to impact reputations, but to vandalise them.

As the proposal for Brand Vandalism goes: “The Internet allows them to wreak havoc, but also forces a level of engagement and dialogue that organisations, public and private, have never had to contemplate before.”

Whereas Brand Anarchy concluded that, while reputational control is impossible, getting a grip through audience engagement could give a more commanding position, Brand Vandalism will go much deeper. And darker.

The two questions Stephen and I have been asked by readers, contacts, academics (yes, true!) and senior businesspeople who’ve read Brand Anarchy are a.) just how bad can this get when people really go for a brand’s throat and b.) is there anything that can realistically be done to stop them?

So those are the questions we’ll be aiming to answer. By peering further into the murkiest, dirtiest thoughts of brand detractors and activists, and pooling insight from progressive brands who’ve taken steps to adapt their communications to those severe reputational threats, as well as the opportunities of evolving media.

Brand Vandalism is being written over the next four months and is due to be in shops in time for Christmas. So that’s one less present to worry about.

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