The global news-media has been making news of late. The news-breaker has become a news-maker. Unwittingly, and much to their chagrin of course.
There have been examples galore. The controversy of paid-news hit the fan sometime ago in India, and I am told some pieces of sticky-turd are still stubbornly sticking out there. With 2014 looking that much closer due to the elections to the Lok Sabha, the issue of political affiliation of news-media brands continues to dog the category. The rumors abound. News-channel ownership patterns by business houses is yet another silent issue at hand, discussed in hushed whispers. The News of The World controversy scarred it all nicely, just as the Fareed Zakaria plagiarism controversy has just about broken and pan-seared it, scarring a celebrated writer with a fan following that must run in millions.
The point is simple. None of us are above it all. We are humans and will remain just that. Fallibility is a part of this entire situation at hand.
How do scandals, controversies and rumors then impact news-media brands? Do they get affected at all? And if so, how doesit all pan out in terms of viewers and readers and listeners and the audience at large?
My definition of a brand is a crisp and simple one. The brand is a thought. A thought that lives in a person’s mind. This thought is alive and kicking, just as the person is. This person could be your reader or viewer or listener. He may not be one as well for that matter. And thoughts abound in people’s minds. Brands are thoughts. Powerful thoughts that live and jostle in people’s minds, jostling with one another to dominate and stand out. This thought can be positive. This thought can be negative. Do remember, a beautiful finger stands out at times less than a sore thumb.
News-media brands that have had it rough in recent times get impacted largely by the one big thing that nobody wants to hit them: the loss of credibility. The next time I read a Fareed Zakaria piece, I will have this canker lurking in my mind, impacting on the thought that is Fareed Zakaria. Never mind the fact that the man is a brilliant writer, a brilliant analyst and brilliant man altogether. Never even mind the decades of good work he has delivered. Such is the sadness of the lack of rational behavior of the human mind. We do not add up all the positives and weigh it against a negative. Instead, the most recent incident seems to overtake it all. The most recent eclipse has the habit of eclipsing it all.
Loss of readership and viewership and listenership, a lack of credibility at large, and a certain overall cynicism is what hits the consumer out here. Quite like what happened to the brand of five-day cricket at large after the early controversies of match fixing that had many of our cricketing heroes fall from grace. While loyalty gets shaken and stirred, much else happens as well.
A lot happens in terms of news mediaon the advertising revenue side of the business. Marketers are savvy folk. They will wait and watch. They will assess impact. They will make all the right noises when they meet the content and media marketing guys, but will quietly pull the rug of marketing money out of the affected brand. This happens not quick, as quiet. Remember, for the brands that advertise, it is important to be on the right side of the controversy rather than the ostensibly wrong one.
The happy and sad point then. People are fickle. People’s minds are fickle. Times move on, and people tend to forget. And having forgotten, they forgive. News-media brands that go through controversy actually travel through an eclipse. The News Of The World is going through one such. As times change, and as newer controversies hit the fan, the older ones are forgotten. As newer and bigger issues concern all, the smaller and older ones get pushed into the nether regions of the mind.
The breaking news, to that extent, is more important than the already-broken one. Time to that extent is a big healer. And this eclipse, like all, is not forever.
Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. Follow him on Twitter @harish bijoor, firstname.lastname@example.org