Third-party credibility as a strategic PR approach entails involving credible third parties in an organisation’s communication. The involvement of the third-party enhances the reputation of the initiating organisation. This is a 101 approach to public relations and fundamental to its practice.

Third-party credibility can be a manifestation, or an extension, of taking a strategic alliance approach. In the case of third-party credibility, however, it can be more of a one-way relationship, whereby the organisation is not expected to enhance the third-party’s reputation. The reality is that a third-party is unlikely to get involved with the initiating organisation unless he or she thinks it is credible anyway, of course. But you get the idea, I hope…

The need for credibility

A fundamental reality of life is that no one or no entity consistently earns credibility through its own actions. It takes the opinion of, or relationship with, a third party to initiate the credibility and/or keep the momentum rolling. And even if credibility exists, most organisations, for instance, want more of the same… enter the credible third party.

An extension of this fundamental reality is that organisations, especially corporates, are especially liable to have a need for ‘credibility’ momentum or enhancement. It helps engage organisational target audiences and helps create content and stories that target audiences talk about – real-time or online – that foster the esteemed viral, or word-of-mouth, characteristic.

Three major elements of third-party reputation enhancement

There are three critically important elements to generating third-party credibility:

  1. Who or what is the third-party going to be? (Often this will be an integrated combination of both, in fact, as in the CEO from X organisation),
  2. what will be the topic of the narrative the third-party will engage upon and how is this relevant to the organisation and its target audiences? How, in fact, is the content relevant to the third-party, too? and
  3. what are the communication mechanisms through which the third-party content will be leveraged?

 

It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that the third-party approach needs to be consistent with the organisation’s holistic communication strategy.

The answers to the three questions above will be apparent through the organisation’s market research and/or its interactions with target audiences.

Don’t guess. Do the science. Do the analytics. Identify the insights.

High on the agenda will be identifying a third-party with considerable influence over target audiences.

Communication mechanisms for leveraging PR

Some approaches that can be taken to utilising the third-party credibility model include:

  • Producing a whitepaper on a strategically appropriate topic in partnership with an industry association stakeholder(s) and/or academic(s) and/or political stakeholder(s), then leveraging the content through communication, customising it appropriately,
  • hosting a round table on a specific topic, inviting credible stakeholders to participate, then generating content (e.g. whitepaper) for leveraging through communication, or
  • commissioning one or more academics to undertake research on a particular topic, then the organisation (using its CEO, for instance) comments on (i.e. analysing and contextualising) and promotes this content through relevant communication mechanisms – interestingly, this is an echo of the content curation model.

A hybrid approach that incorporates some of the ideas above is based on undertaking market research on a topic. This is generally quantitative but can also be qualitative. The research findings will be of interest of the media and, through them, target audiences. It can be repeated every year or so and becomes the ‘XXX Corporation Index on XYZ Topic’, thus enhancing the organisation’s positioning relevant to this topic.

The topic can be multifaceted and it can be evolved each time it occurs so the organisation does not need to be ‘stuck’ in a topic or area that may lose interest over time. For instance, if the core topic is Western Sydney, there could be evolving dimensions of the research that focus on health on one occasion, education the next, housing the next etc.

The research will be commented on by the organisation, of course, but so can other external stakeholders like academics be invited to provide an analysis and that too can be promoted. The research itself is undertaken by a third-party market research agency so the research content will have ‘arms-length’ credibility in itself.

As an aside, any advertisement I see that tries to apply third-party credibility looks seriously like unadulterated spin. For instance, ads that spruik toothpaste and use ‘independent’ dentists to back their claims – c’mon, are they serious? Are people really stupid enough to buy this approach?

Media and social media as credible third parties 

The medium can inherently communicate a message, as Marshal McLuhan noted many Tequila Sunrises ago. In this instance, having the communication content featured on platforms carries the imprimatur of that medium. This can include:

  • A media outlet,
  • a non-organisational website,
  • a social media platform (e.g. Twitter, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn), even if that platform is just raising awareness of the content and features little in the way of a description or qualitative assessment of that content, or
  • a presentation by the third-party or another non-organisational individual who may have chosen to use the content because of its utility.

This notion underlines the importance of leveraging the content delivered by the third-party in the best way possible. The easiest option and the option with the largest database/audience may not be the best option.

Ask yourself not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your communication strategy.

 

This post is an edited version of an article in a free whitepaper, ‘The Holy Trinity of Public Relations’, produced by experienced corporate communication practitioner, Craig Pearce. The whitepaper is available as a free download for all email subscribers to his blog, Public relations and managing reputation. The whitepaper provides an overview of the strategic dimensions of, and practical implementation tips on, thought leadership, third-party credibility and strategic alliances.

Craig Pearce
BY Craig Pearce ON 17 May 2012
Craig Pearce is an experienced corporate communication practitioner, and blogs at Public relations and managing reputation.