- Corporate Branding
Too many corporations and agencies have made the mistake of disguising advocacy efforts by creating phony front organizations posing as something other than what they really are. It’s very clear that honesty is always the best policy and transparency is essential.
Today’s Wall Street Journal features a page one story about a website called AngryRenter.com, which the Journal describes as “an AstroTurf campaign” — a fake grass roots effort. The reporter’s premise rests on his contention that the people behind AngryRenter.com are not renters, and that some of the 44,500 people who signed the AngryRenter.com petition opposing a mortgage bailout by Congress may not have known that. In fact, the site is sponsored by an organization called FreedomWorks, which is headed by former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
When I went to the site to check its level of transparency, the first thing I saw was a prominent link to the Journal story, rebutting the Journal’s fakery accusation. This is highly transparent, putting the whole issue front and center, but of course this link was not there before the Journal ran its story.
So I scrolled to the bottom of the home page to see if it’s easy to determine who’s behind AngryRenter.com. The first item at the bottom of the home page is a copyright symbol followed by a link to FreedomWorks. Just below this is a link labeled “About Us,” which goes to a page describing AngryRenter.com as a project of FreedomWorks and again linking to the FreedomWorks website.
Now, I have no way of knowing if these links were up prior to the Journal story, but if so, it would seem that the folks behind AngryRenter.com were trying to make it easy to see who they are and what they are all about. The FreedomWorks site prominently features Armey’s photo and, while it describes itself as non-partisan, it’s certainly not hiding its conservative and Republican credentials. It also describes itself as a grassroots organization, with “hundreds of thousands of grassroots volunteers nationwide.” I can’t verify that claim.
Some questions arise: Is it enough to disclose who’s behind a website in an “About Us” link on a website’s home page? Should prudent web readers be expected to look for this information, or is it necessary to disclose the information even directly on the home page? Is it dishonest to create a website designed to recruit, say renters, and to in fact recruit them, if the originating organization is not specifically a renter’s organization?
I don’t know the answers, but I do know this: Demands for transparency are only increasing, and standards are rising. Bottom line: Credibility requires authenticity. In other words, you need to be who you say you are, or you will be challenged. In fact, you will be challenged either way.
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