#ECS2019: Disinformation, relevance and trustworthiness

Just a few of the key talking points at this year's European Communication Summit

What happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin.

 Well, I don’t necessarily agree, so I’d like to share with you what went on at the 13th edition of the European Communication Summit, which took place last week in the German capital city.

(Main Image: Dorian speaking on stage at the 2019 European Communication Summit)

This year, the most important summit in the industry gathered over 300 professionals in communication and public relations from all over Europe. For two days, people debated, wondered, asked questions, exchanged opinions and experiences. All in a relaxed and friendly environment, even more so since during the breaks, one could enjoy a wurst and a beer, lounging on the boat docked near the location, on the River Spree.

But more about that later, in another piece. For now, I want to tell you about the three major topics which generated debate among the communication professionals in Europe and which will undoubtedly influence the industry during the years to come.

Good-bye fake news, hello deep fake (with a bit of help from artificial intelligence)

Not only is the fake news phenomenon here to stay, but it is also set to become more powerful and even more hideous: deep fake news.

In short, the technology to manipulate reality even better is already here, and it is being used by a handful of people with access to it. In fact, we have witnessed the emergence of technologies that can scan human faces and provide a virtual, highly accurate rendering of other faces, in order to do, uhm… basically, everything you want them to do.

Dr. Rand Waltzman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at RAND Corporation, began his opening keynote with a video purportedly showing Barack Obama literally stating that Trump is an idiot. Had we not known Obama’s level of diplomacy, we would have been convinced that the video is 100% real, given the excellent quality of the footage. You don’t have to be a genius to start an international scandal by publishing a fake video online, in which Trump declares that Putin is a dumbdumb. Of course, such statements can be subsequently refuted, but the damage is already done.

According to Waltzman, we must learn to live with such phenomena, because they fake news – or disinformation, as he preferred to call it – is an incurable chronic disease. We will simply have to learn how to manage such situations. Somehow. We don’t know how, though.

What the figures show: 77% of the communication and PR professionals in Europe believe that artificial intelligence will have a massive influence on their profession.

(Relevant) content is still king!

There was also a lot of debate around the fact that brands need to follow a new logic, one similar to journalistic logic, a logic that produces content relevant for their audience and not for the bosses who pay their bills.

At the Summit, HSBC and BMW presented case studies showing how they organise their editorial work exactly like in a newsroom. This idea, and the term brand journalism, has been familiar to comms professionals for years, however, in most cases brands produce content that is irrelevant for their audiences at best.

Still, what does it mean to be relevant? Well, it’s not that complicated. Brands need to understand that they don’t have to be so self-obsessed, and that their customers have other interests besides the brand itself. As I see it, one of the best examples is The Talks by Rolex.

Most experts I’ve talked to about the subject state that one of the best ways to build a brand is the ability to produce quality content for audiences. Of course, it takes a bit of money to get a good project going, but when has quality ever been cheap?

What the figures show: 54% of the industry actors consider that the importance of owned media has increased during the past three years.

Trustworthiness, the single biggest preoccupation of communication professionals

In a European and global context, in which society is losing its trust in politics and mass media, brands and companies have the responsibility (whether they like it or not) to fill in this trust gap in the minds and hearts of the public.

During the past few years, we have seen several major brands express their opinion on various social and political matters, transforming this into a marketing differentiator. From Nike to Adidas, Gillette to Always, almost every major brand has brought forward a social topic. Do you know why? It’s simple: because these are the issues that the public is concerned with, and smart brands have understood that early on.

Furthermore, one issue widely discussed at the event was the fact that communicators will be more like consultants in the future, returning the profession to how theoreticians once saw it, i.e. the role of negotiating between the company’s and the society’s interests. Among others, PR professionals will have the responsibility of interrogating the company’s position in relation to society, with the outcome of gaining or regaining its trust - exactly how politicians do it (or should do it).

I really enjoyed how Laila Pawlak, co-founder and CEO of SinguralityU Nordic, explained that it is very likely that positions such as Chief Philosophy Officer will emerge in the near future, a role that reflects and asks the right questions at the right moment becoming a profession in itself.

What the figures show: for 37.9% of the industry actors, building and maintaining trust is the main priority for the following years.

Last, but not least

Beyond the three topics discussed above, I felt that everyone in the room, whether in their suits or in their tropical vacation shirts, was increasingly concerned with an authentic communication that brings out the human value, with all its flaws and qualities, with emotion and humility, at the same time relaxed and filled with humour.

That’s also why the two-day Summit ended with a stand-up comedy performed by Andrew Tarvin from Humour That Works, who introduced himself a big-headed nerd who will put a smile on our faces. And he was right!

PS: I would like to thank the Summit organisers, Quadriga Media Berlin - especially Professor Ana Adi  - and the European Association of Communication Directors for the invitation to talk before such a large audience about #TogetherForMagicHome, a campaign special to me and to the agency, a project into which we, together with Jazz Communication, the creative brain behind the campaign, poured our human qualities. Source for figures: European Communication Monitor 2019

Dorian Ilie

Dorian Ilie is consumer communication director at Rogalski Damaschin PR. In recent years, together with the team at Rogalski Damaschin Public Relations, he has been awarded at several international festivals: Cannes Lions (Gold Lion in 2016 for Salveaza Ciocarlia and Silver Lion in 2018 for MagicHome), SABRE, Digital Communication Award, but also at local festivals such as Effie (Grand Effie in 2018 for MagicHome) and Romanian PR Award, where he fulfilled the role of a juror twice.