Disinformation and ‘Fake News’

A guide to ethical communications for public relations practitioners.

#FuturePRoof has published a practical guide to tackling disinformation for communicators. 

One of the biggest issues facing professional communicators today is the prevalence of fake news. We should call it out for what it is: disinformation. Read on and you’ll find out why.

According to UNESCO, disinformation is information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country.

As practitioners, we have a duty of care to ensure that content we share is authentic, true and substantiated, particularly where we can reach and influence large groups of people.

This short guide to ethical communications is designed to help practitioners follow best practice, build resilience within organisations and start to understand the scale of the problem.

You’ll find a breakdown of terminology, signposting to helpful resources and two brief case studies that illustrate the threat posed by disinformation to get you started.

You can access the free guide here:


Grab a coffee, take a read and earn some CPD points while you’re on. I hope that you find it useful.

Sarah Waddington
Founder and Editor, #FuturePRoof

Suffering from imposter syndrome? It’s because diverse role models in PR are rare

by Bridget Aherne

Put Cheetham Hill in a search engine and the top result you’ll see is about it being the knock-off capital of the UK and, if you’ve already heard of it, you may know of it for other unsavoury reasons.

It’s the place I come from and where my mum and Irish immigrant dad still live and, while far from being ashamed of my origins, the fact is it meant that I faced a struggle to get into PR.

After stumbling across an interest in PR, there was no one in my family nor anyone I knew who could help me plot a route into the profession, so it was for me to find out about, work towards and fund my way into.

I won’t bore you or I with the detail, but it was not easy, and I still find it a challenge to progress – not least because I suffer imposter syndrome and feel that someone from my background doesn’t deserve to be a chartered PR, at the top of their game, in our industry.

As recently as two years ago, I had a tearful late-night conversation with Sarah Hall where I was convinced that something had gone wrong at work because I’m trash and not worthy of a big job.

If there were more people like me working in business leadership, I might not have inaccurately looked at myself and the shortcomings I perceive that I have: talking like a docker in a rough accent, being thick and Irish, and often feeling of less value by being a young woman in traditionally male-dominated environments.

So, I was chuffed to bits three weeks ago when Sarah announced she was launching a charitable foundation, Socially Mobile, to support people like me – those from lower socioeconomic households, BAME practitioners and women returners.

Please get behind this worthwhile cause whether by donating cash, becoming a sponsor or supporting in some other way, like I have with this blog, and don’t decry the need for this, if you haven’t lived the struggle.

There is no threat to the industry by levelling the playing field and there are actually many benefits – in the organisations I’ve worked for, I’ve regularly been the only voice in the room that can authoritatively give insight into the customers or members of the public that we’re there to serve.

You can find out more about Socially Mobile here.


Bridget Aherne Chart. PR is an award-winning public relations leader whose work since going it alone was recognised at 2018’s CIPR Excellence Awards, where she was named outstanding independent practitioner. She provides counsel to the leaders of organisations across the country – as well as remaining hands-on in the delivery of activities for those she works with. You can find her on Twitter @BridgetAherne.

Socially Mobile: an update

It's been quite the week where we've shared the news of our forthcoming charity Socially Mobile, which aims to give practitioners a leg up the public relations career ladder by offering educational grants.

We've been overwhelmed with messages of support from individuals, agencies, charities and trade associations, which are all much appreciated. 

Right now, the focus is on incorporating the charity and housekeeping, so please bear with us while we get the appropriate governance in place. Then we need a huge push to reach our £20k goal.   

For those looking at practical ways to support, here are a few ideas:

  • Why not make a pledge to become a founding donor (individuals) and we'll add you to our list of colleagues who've committed to help us make a difference

  • If you're an organisation, why not become an inaugural sponsor and demonstrate how you are helping solving PR's diversity and inclusivity problem in a very practical way

  • All fundraising efforts will be much appreciated once we are up and running. One way of helping out could be to add a small amount to event ticket prices and donating this to Socially Mobile - it all adds up! 

  • Finally, we'll be looking for ways to raise awareness so any blogs, articles in the media, podcast and Twitter chats will be welcomed with open arms and a heap more thanks. 

We'll update as things progress, but in the meantime, why not enjoy the latest #FuturePRoof podcast, which Stephen Waddington and I recorded at the weekend. 

#FuturePRoof Podcast, Episode 2, 2019 Socially Mobile

In this latest edition, we ask whether the Fyre Festival was less a PR disaster or more bad business. We explore the Edelman Trust Barometer and find good news for employee advocacy.

Professional blogging is changing as people find news ways to create content and build networks. There’s a new initiative from the CIPR on procuring professional services and the PRCA has launched a virtual agency group.

Of course I give Socially Mobile a shout out and Stephen’s created a virtual school to help students build their professional profile and get ahead.

Enjoy and thanks again for all your support.

Public schooled and posh: PR’s big problem

Fresh thinking is needed to tackle diversity in public relations.

 There’s a huge amount of energy around the issue of diversity and inclusivity in public relations and yet our industry remains a closed shop to anyone without money and networks.

The 2018 PRCA Census (opens as a PDF) reported that 69% of PR and communications practitioners attended a state school versus 31% attending an independent school. The independent sector educates around 6.5% of the total number of school children in the UK according to the Independent Schools Council.

Society sets up those from lower income backgrounds to fail. If you’re starting out, many of the few student grants around expect match funding; and if you haven’t got wealthy people around you to help, what then? Simple: you get into debt or miss out.

There are some routes into PR designed to give people a helping hand. The PRCA’s apprenticeship scheme and the Taylor Bennett Foundation are just two examples of organisations looking to even the playing field but we need more.

It affects all ages

This poverty trap affects people at every stage of their career. Earning potential greatly increases where training and qualifications unlock strategic, ethical and leadership capabilities but the cost of these can be prohibitive.

If you’re trapped in a predominately tactical role, your salary is not only limited but your role is also potentially at threat from automation. Sometimes it feels impossible, no matter how hard you work, to break through especially if you’re in a minority without role models and champions around you.

I’ve spent the last four years through #FuturePRoof and latterly the CIPR talking about the need for practitioners to treat PR as a strategic management function and to upskill accordingly - but equally recognise not everyone will have that chance.

Finding a solution 

Which is why later this year, I’ll be launching Socially Mobile, a charitable foundation designed to give practitioners a stepping stone.

The charity will offer grants to people from lower income households, including BAME practitioners and women returners, so they can study business management courses that open up new career opportunities.

I’m currently compiling a list of approved courses that will help professionals unlock their leadership potential. If you run one or know of any that could be pertinent, please send them my way.

We need to raise £20k in our first year to get this show on the road. If you’re an individual who’d be willing to make a regular monthly donation or an organisation who’d be willing to become an inaugural sponsor, I’d love to hear from you. I’m also looking for a media partner. 

Teams in public relations are meant to represent the publics we serve. Look around and be honest. Is that what you see?

I was lucky. I got a council grant to go to university. I’m not sure I’d be so fortunate today.

Let’s be the generation that didn’t just talk a good game but actually gave others around us that much needed leg up. We owe it to ourselves and society.

PRs should own search reputation – but do we?

by Chris Lee

Search agencies often focus on helping their clients’ sites to rank highly in order to sell products or services, but what happens when you google a company and what you find is a wall of negativity? This is where PR comes in…

Here’s a challenge for you. Open a new browser in incognito mode and google a client’s name or – if you’re in-house – your own brand. Do you like what you find? Is it accurate? Are there negative stories? How many links belong to the brand?

In a recent PR Moment post, Andy Barr from 10 Yetis highlights the impact of negative SEO on corporate reputation. While negative SEO is a challenge to some organisations, the wider issue of negative search results needs to be tackled. 

Late last year, I worked on a major SEO research project with Grayling UK. We wanted to understand how negative Google research results impact FTSE 100 brands and how they differ according to sector.

The results were shocking. 

The vast majority – 80% - of FTSE 100 companies had negative content on page one of Google, focused chiefly on poor financial performance and confidence, poor products and services, and unethical corporate behaviour. Worryingly for brands, old news sticks around. We found that 39% of negative content was more than six months old and nearly a quarter (23%) was more than a year old.

Combining our findings with other research, we estimated that these negative Google search results lose FTSE 100 companies 16% of traffic - almost 15 million leads every month. These are potential customers, investors, employees and journalists who have googled the brand and been put off by what they have found.

While news sites presented the biggest threat, other prominent sites that can provide reputational damage include Glassdoor and, in particular, Wikipedia.

In short, the online reputation of many FTSE 100 companies – on search engines, at least – is out of control.

The opportunity for PR

In recent years, Google’s algorithm that the search giant uses when assessing how to rank websites has raised the weighting of inbound links as one of its 200+ signals. Brand mentions across the board is also a big factor, as is readability. So, the areas that PRs traditionally excel in – generating online coverage and creating engaging content – are the same qualities Google’s search bots regard above many other factors.

We have the expertise to influence these negative factors that appear on page one of Google. A little knowledge of how search algorithms work can go a long way.

This isn’t an SEO 101 post, this is a macro view on what PRs with the right skills can offer their clients to help them improve their search reputation.

Auditing: To find a solution, you first need to understand the problem. It all starts with an audit. What appears high on search – especially page one of Google – and why? How many of the ten organic spaces are ‘owned’ by the brand, such its website, social feeds etc.? This will also include a technical SEO audit. For example, Grayling found that just 15 of the FTSE 100 companies had ‘claimed’ their company on Google My Business to ensure that accurate information appears on their ‘knowledge panel’, which is the box of info you’ll see on the right-hand side when you google the brand. Just fifteen!

Strategy development:  Once you know the problem, it’s time to plot the solution, which will involve mix of content strategy, link building, positive news campaigns and social media. Changing search reputation doesn’t happen overnight, so the strategy must be a long-term project.

Measure and Pivot: It’s key to measure what matters and check results on a regular basis. Are you moving the needle? If not, why not? Are you earning enough diverse and authoritative inbound links?

Many of the search reputation challenges that brands face must be tackled at board level – they could be cultural, for example, if a poor Glassdoor rating is an issue. The answers to the questions of why a brand has negative results on page one can usually be found in the nature and content of those ranking links. 

PR can identify the issues and plot a path out. 

For PR agencies, there is a big opportunity to provide services in online reputation, but they must do it from a platform of knowledge. One cannot blag SEO. We’ve seen some agencies excel and many search agencies have hired experienced PRs to help them earn positive coverage and links. The two disciplines overlapped a long time ago but PR really should own reputation management.

So, some takeaways: learn how search engines work with SEO training for PR consultants, understand the challenges your brand or clients face, and tell them how you can turn things around for them.

PR needs to start owning online reputation.


Chris Lee is the CEO/Founder of content and training consultancy, Eight Moon Media.

Dr Jon White

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Dr Jon White

Few practitioners can time travel but Jon White can certainly claim to have gone back to the future. Almost 20 years ago, Jon predicted that the future was bright for PR if practitioners educated and trained themselves to become indispensable to management. Sound familiar? Jon’s work inspired #FuturePRoof and has provided the foundations behind the CIPR’s drive to reassert public relations as a strategic management function. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Stephen Waddington

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Stephen Waddington

Whatever agency alchemist Stephen Waddington touches seems to turn to gold. Having grown and sold two businesses, Stephen’s ability to reinvent himself knows no bounds. While www.wadds.co.uk showcases much of the science, Stephen also has an art. Master of the crowdsourced project and blog post, Stephen is a community-building expert who always shares the wealth. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Laura Sutherland

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Laura Sutherland

In Alice in Wonderland we’re taught that moving out your comfort zone can lead to exciting adventures and new relationships. Sutherland has brought that same ethos to PRFest, a two-day public relations festival aimed at senior professionals. Now a key date in the industry calendar, Laura has continued to innovate through PR Space, a concept allowing practitioners to work on their business rather than in it. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Ethan Spibey

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Ethan Spibey

Once upon a time there was a government affairs professional whose pinned tweet read ‘I can confirm the rumours, I am a gay man.’ Step forward Ethan Spibey whose wholehearted and vocal commitment to equal rights has made him a pin up not just for the LGBT+ community, but for everyone, everywhere. Want to help make the world a better place? Be more like Ethan.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Sir Martin Sorrell

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Sir Martin Sorrell

If you were to imagine a PR version of Mount Rushmore, Sir Martin’s face would be carved upon it. As founder of the world’s largest advertising group by both revenue and number of employees, Sorrell’s reputation goes before him for almost single-handedly turning a cottage industry into a global moneymaking machine. There’s no stopping this juggernaut who has just launched S4 Capital in his mid-seventies. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Peter Smith

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Peter Smith

Once upon a time, public relations came *this close* to being recognised as a strategic management function thanks to PR champion, CIPR Past President Peter Smith. Back in 1984, Smith managed to persuade Cranfield School of Management to include public relations as part of the MBA management curriculum. While this was discontinued a few years later, influencing business school teaching about the value of PR is something the Institute is now revisiting.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Nicola Regazzoni & George Blizzard

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Nicola Regazzoni & George Blizzard

Counted as one here, Nicky and George are to the PR industry what Anna and Elsa are to Frozen; sisters doing it for themselves. Just as the royal siblings find a way to break Arendelle out of its eternal winter, this dynamic double act has broken out of PR’s always-on obsession, to find a way of servicing clients around the globe while delivering great results and having a work-life balance. This innovative new way of working continues to snowball. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Alex Myers

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Alex Myers

While Naked & Famous sounds like a dodgy publication, it’s also the perfect example of why Alex’s agency is blazing a trail. Their approach to charging by how awesome a campaign is, eschewing traditional billing models, might seem risky to some but ripping up the rulebook is a Manifest hallmark, as is being nice. There’s a reason Manifest’s domain name ends in .rocks. Hard to argue really.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Sandra Macleod

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Sandra Macleod

Traditionally in any story finding the treasure is a tricky business, but in this modern-day PR adventure Macleod has both the map and the key to the chest. By quantifying the economic value of reputation through her company Echo Research, Sandra has unlocked the value of public relations to business and is the kind of protagonist the PR world should unite behind. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Dr Jacquie L’Etang

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Dr Jacquie L’Etang

Every good story needs a narrator and that’s where Jacquie L’Etang comes in. Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the Twentieth Century is a comprehensive guide to how and why the UK industry developed and is just one of Jacquie’s impressive back catalogue that every PR practitioner should have on their shelves. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Rich Leigh

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Rich Leigh

Now we come to the mischievous Puck of our book, agency owner Rich Leigh. Founder of the stunts and campaigns site PRexamples.com and author of Myths of PR, Rich’s creativity knows no bounds. Notorious for having changed his name by deed poll to Mr Public Relations, Rich recently introduced a four-day working week at Radioactive PR. Watch this space for whatever innovation he comes up with next. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Tony Langham

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Tony Langham

There are many stories of rags to riches but not many where the hero shares the wealth. In an industry which professes to be people-focused, too few walk the talk. Step forward Tony Langham, co-founder of reputation management agency Lansons, which was the first to become widely employee-owned and has more than a third of the team as partners. A leader from the front, Langham is the epitome of doing well by doing good and an influential advocate for the sector.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Francis Ingham

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Francis Ingham

When it comes to heroes and villains, the skilled, sarcastic and complex Ingham must surely be the PR sector’s Severus Snape. Leaving the question of dark arts aside, industry leader Ingham has certainly worked magic in campaigning against NLA fees and was quick to take a strong line in expelling Bell Pottinger for unethical behaviour. Having secured the PRCA-APPC merger, members are now spellbound to see what happens next. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.