With the changing media landscape, public relations professionals have been urged to produce more “authentic” messages and materials from their organizations. This has proved challenging since there is no standard definition or measurement for authenticity.
In their book, What Consumers Really Want: Authenticity, Pine and Gilmore define authenticity as “something that is real, original, genuine, sincere, and not fake.” But even the authors admit that people perceive authenticity differently. Someone’s “authentic” is another person’s “fake.” (They use Disneyland as an example).
Researcher Michael Beverland uncovered yet another challenge with authenticity – that paid media (as opposed to earned media) is especially low in creating the perception of authenticity. However, the Joyful Heart Foundation's new televised “Speechless” PSAs, an outgrowth of their "No More" campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault, demonstrate that it is possible to produce authentic paid media.
The PSAs were created from outtakes from the original “No More” campaign, and catch the actors struggling to keep their emotions in-check. Complete with missed cues and awkward silences (for which the actors often apologize), it’s what the actors don’t say that make these PSAs authentic and effective.
Research by Beverland and Farrelly offer insight into why these PSAs work (The Quest for Authenticity in Consumption, 2010). Their study revealed that people perceive authenticity when self-interest, community norms and universal norms align – a true Kumbaya moment.
PR professionals, however, should not be lulled into thinking that they have no contribution to “authenticity,” and that it somehow just happens. It took creativity to recognize that the actors’ silence and stumbling was actually filled with meaning; and it took a talented copywriter to clearly remind us “domestic violence and sexual assault are hard subjects for everyone to talk about.” By being vigilant in identifying and sharing organizations’ authentic stories, recognizing an opportunity that others might overlook, and concisely articulating the message for us through spot-on copyrighting, PR professionals can add real value and contribute to the authenticity of their organizations’ voices.