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Is Julian Assange the new Ghandi?
2010-10-25:
The truth is out there, and the thing about information is .. it gets around. One day, one way, it gets out.
The publication of 391,832 reports forming The Iraq War Logs near comprehensively documents the war and occupation in Iraq, revealing previously secret details of events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq. (Guardian, UN calls for investigation)
These are the actions of US and sometimes British power overseas, taken in our name, paid for with our taxes, but kept secret from us not because they are unsavoury .. war is certainly that .. but because within those records are unconscionable acts that don't support the image our governments want us to have about our armed forces.
Remember, in Britain at least, all the recent 'respect for the military' stuff is consciously created PR.
I'm not saying we shouldn't respect our military, I really do. But wouldn't it be better if we could be confident that our forces really did live up to the high standards we think are in place?
Assange doesn't necessarily run Wikileaks, he's just the one with his head above the parapet, but I see real bravery there. I don't know much about Ghandi, but I can't get away from the idea that Assange is breaking seriously new ground in this information age and I see him as Ghandi-esque, putting his life on the line for principles that affect us all. Watch the campaign against him as a troublemaker grow .. he's not even liked by the press because he claims to do their job better than they do.
Journalism is what stands between us and totalitarianism, and here's a serious pain in the side of established power .. just as it should be.
Here in the UK we had the parliamentary expenses scandal .. another journalism-led release of information that scuppered the boats of many unscrupulous MPs.
Members of the BNP have had their details leaked.
Information will out.

The beginnings of PR

The story of how PR came about is one of releasing information, not hiding it. As I remember the story, in the early days of the American railroads, when crashes happened the companies naturally tried to keep the press off the story, resulting in bad news for days. The first actions of PR were to release information as is was discovered to the press who reported it factually and quickly to everyone's benefit. It's better to just say what's happened and be judged by your actions.
So here we are, in an information age. Our online life is recorded. We have the capability now (affordable disc capacity) to video our entire lives from start to finish .. why not record (bug) our every conversation? CCTV of course watches our movements. Our mobile phones are logged and tracked, our credit and loyalty card accounts record our every transaction. Our DNA is everywhere.
As a child I rather liked the idea of every crime being solvable by something very like current forensics, meaning people just didn't get away with crime.

New strategies for an open world

I think we all have to realise we live in an open world. Many are facing this now. I know people who won't join Facebook because there are people from their past they would rather not face.
It's very smug of me to sit here as if I've never done anything wrong. I read the story yesterday of someone who got sent to prison and thought they would use the time to interview every fellow prisoner. They couldn't find anyone in there who'd done anything wrong. To feel right about ourselves, we justify our actions.
What I'm saying is what I tell all my clients. The secret of success in business nowadays when information is so fast, so detailed and absolute, and so mobile, is to be fabulous. It's not really about search engine optimisation or pay per click or social media strategies. It's about serving people and being outstandingly good at what you do. Everything else follows.
I was looking at religions the other day and came across the idea in Buddhism that it's not your action that matters, it's what lies behind what you are doing. You know in your heart whether what you are doing is right or not. You know when you buy that t-shirt for £3 that you are supporting sweatshop labour, and you justify it by saying at least they have jobs or that that's a living wage over there. In your heart you know it's wrong, but intellectually, you justify it.
So what that means is, to come through and succeed as a small business in this connected world you need to act with a good heart or your karma will bite you back. So how does that work, in business?

How branding fits in

Brand values are at the centre of this. If you want to say that you run a business with a small footprint, an ecologically fair company, you are saying that because you want to appeal to your audience. It probably wouldn't help to have that value if you're making and selling uranium tipped bullets.
So in marketing, first you spot the need that you want to fulfil. You work out what values your audience would like to live by, and you assume those values. Values, by the way, are pretty flexible. So I'm not talking about getting the essential 'you' out there. We are higher animals, we live by consciously chosen creeds and rules (so .. get choosing).
Then you promote and live by those values and people choose whether to buy from you or not. What they are saying when they do is .. we like your values.
Brands, it is said, are better than friends because they are consistent.
So get thinking about brand values. Think about all the products and services you buy and their brand values. Are you fun? Scientifically proven? Effective? Cheap? When you know that, what would an 'effective' company do?
After a while you have your brand values and some regular clients who agree with your values. You'd better be consistent.

The company that lives by good brand values can open up to social media

And, having said this isn't about online marketing techniques let me just say this. If you and your business live by true values, you can open up. Your staff and customers will be loyal. With social media, you can involve people and if you are true, there's nothing to be scared of. Sure, it has to be managed, but here's the thing:
Imagine you are the customer and you have to choose between two companies. One is open, the other is secretive and closed. Which is it going to be? The one you can talk to on Twitter or the other one?
So this is about having great values and living by them.
The point about Wikileaks isn't that it publishes stuff people would rather be kept secret. It's that it publishes stuff that reveals organisations we believe are doing one thing are actually doing another. That damages companies (or political leaders) that don't live by their own brand values and benefits those who do.
Every day a zillion small Wikileaks happen in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (remember the airline that breaks guitars?) as people report bad service and broken products. But let's be clear. It's not the bad service or broken products that are at issue (think Ryanair .. they offer poor service that's brand consistent and all is well, or even Reggie Perrin's Grot). It's a mismatch between the expectations of the brand and the delivery.
Some things we can't fix, but if you work with a good heart at clear, wholesome and shared values you have nothing to fear from Twitter or Julian Assange.

By John Allsopp
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