The ever-growing demand for information gives companies additional opportunities to promote their image and products, but it also increases the risk of harmful side-effects. As organizations operate under external pressure and intensify their activities, they are confronted with the need to produce more and more abstract news. The excessive use of the “magic trick” in communication, i.e. the multiplication of media facts with no real content and meaning, eventually leads to the putting the message in the background, blurring it and making it infantile. And this is a simple way to lose market credibility.


  1. The increasing amount of information being processed, the activity of stakeholders and the hectic pace of public discussions all add up to the communication noise characteristic of the social media age.
  2. Companies are trying to respond effectively to the pressure by joining the race and generating more and more of their own information.
  3. In this lemming-like rush to be noticed and to produce the “news of the day” faster than others, with a more powerful headline, how the content is wrapped up by the media coverage becomes more important than the real, factual content itself.
  4. This has resulted in an environment that supports the booming of “facts without factual content’: pseudo-information that alongside the desired short-term effects, brings the risk of compromising the companies” and managers” image and reputation.
  5. A responsible company which faces the challenges of the environment needs high-quality competence to manage information, communication consistency and image risks.

Limited effectiveness of classic news stories

The classic model of generating positive information, which is more than just a paid marketing message, requires at least two elements to be present: a relevant fact and properly developed messages about that fact. In a classic understanding, a fact is an event that affects the situation of an organization and its environment, changing the status quo in a significant way. However, the impact on the organization is not enough, there must also be a component of influencing the external environment. What is more, if this external impact concerns only the company’s customers, then the fact may be classified as advertising rather than “news” and rejected by the editors or, even worse, deemed unreliable by the public. Thus, there is a need for a social element, and the more disconnected it is from the business objectives of the message author, the better.

Moreover, both the essence of such an event and the way it is covered in a classic news story must be potentially interesting to the public. This is the only way for it to stand a chance of effective distribution, i.e. of “breaking through” with information. Thus, the category of positive business news, in its classical sense, may include, for example: the start or completion of an investment, the acquisition or sale of part of a business, a new product, a patent acquisition, the start of research cooperation or the signing of an important agreement leading to further development on other markets. Significant personnel changes, such as management or supervisory board moves, can certainly also be considered as such. This list can go on, however, it certainly has a finite number of facts that an organization is able to produce in the course of a year.

Packaging more important than content

Over time, however, it has become clear that in a situation of information overload and the widespread availability of social media in particular, the appropriate “communication packaging” can be far more important than the actual content itself. On top of this, the fact that organizations have their own media at their disposal, i.e. appealing websites, video channels, social media accounts, wide networks of followers) means that there is no need to “break through” the editorial filters of standard media. This only leads to the further discovery that real facts often do not help and may even hinder the construction of appropriate persuasive messages. Indeed, having them firmly grounded in reality limits the possibilities to use euphemistic terms such as “revolution'”, “the greatest'”, “the only one'”, “groundbreaking'”, etc. to increase the conversion rate. Moreover, facts are simply too scarce to satisfy the demand for information. This is why it is so common to see facts without factual content in the public space.

It is worth taking a closer look at the methods that are used to generate such specific media facts, to build up the illusion of their validity and importance. Some of these are quite simple and clear, others, more sophisticated, make their way by using traces of actual facts. It is not the purpose of this text to evaluate such practices negatively, as most of them fall within the conventions of public relations and are socially acceptable. Some fact-free statements can become part of good practices for building a positive reputation or a strong corporate culture within companies, if used thoughtfully. There are also cases where the creation of media facts without real facts content is even appropriate and necessary. At this point, it is important to clearly separate the phenomena described from unethical or even illegal activities such as fake news and trolling.

A form that disguises a lack of content

Letter of intent

For companies that are committed to their market reputation, the signing of an important letter of intent is a significant business event, as it generates effects comparable, if not identical, to the signing of a binding contract. Upon witnessing such an event, the recipient assumes that the letter will be followed by specific actions, leading in some time perspective to the next steps and finally to the declared goal. However, if the entities concerned prioritize the need for short-term media success over longer-term credibility, they reach for this tool in the absence of any guarantee that the announced commitment will be honored. Organizing a celebration of such a signing and making it known to all that they intend to “take action with a purpose” can be very effective in terms of communication. It allows any concept to appear in the public space at virtually no cost or real commitment, with relatively little risk of the matter being quickly exposed.

The Magic of Grand Words

Well-chosen terms have the power of communicating facts. This is especially known to politicians, who try to outperform one another in coming up with attractive names and definitions for their actions. Businesses and their communications consultants have also noticed this, as clever selection and use of “big words” carrying little content has already become entrenched in the minds of the public on more than one occasion. Such mechanism has been particularly eagerly exploited in the European Union’s New Green Deal perspective, which, itself being an example of the power of big words, implies a number of “green revolutions”, “twists” and “fundamental changes’. The real boom of such elevated terms, which replace real actions or describe quite trivial events or distant intentions of various organizations, is yet to come.

Formal rather than real decisions

Another move employed seems to be a variation and development of the big words method. It is particularly effective when action is needed here and now (for example, given the challenges posed to all sectors of the economy by the plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050) and the organization is not ready for it. The solution is to announce substitute decisions: repainting the logo, setting up a new entity dedicated to the cause with a name that fits the trend (the magic of big words) or hiring a manager previously associated with a “green” industry. All these types of actions have a high communication potential and their frequency of implementation is inversely proportional to the number of concrete actions the organization can show.

Ribbon cutting in the presence of VIPs

It is always a big event when an important public figure visits a company, especially one operating from a remote local community. Domestic visits by prime ministers, presidents, ministers, governors or bishops make the front pages of local newspapers and websites, even when they are not connected to a specific event. It is not uncommon for a company privileged by the announcement of such a visit to face the challenge of urgently finding the right reason to hold an event at a push. Thus, a VIP visit preceded by getting organized and “painting the grass green” usually ends with a ribbon-cutting, the blessing of a banner or an announcement of support for some investment, giving the business the communication fuel for several weeks. Since such activities serve both sides by building up the political position of VIPs, there has been a phenomenon of repeated ribbon-cutting of the same, often vague and distant initiatives two or sometimes three times.

Partnership for a better world

When a brand partners with a reputable international organization that pursues a social cause, it is always a high-profile announcement. More often than not, it is associated with commitments of various kinds, concerning the redesign of the business to be more sustainable or environmentally friendly. However, this is not always a prerequisite. There are organizations where participation actually means paying a contribution and reaping the media and image benefits from this. Such “paper” partnerships feature in promotional material, on websites, in annual reports and in CEOs” public statements, generating considerable potential for media facts.

Left and right hand

Another way of creating media facts is to publish selected internal management decisions in a way that simulates a major social event, a classic example being the official signing of an agreement (or sometimes just a letter of intent) between two entities of the same corporate group. This is done either using existing projects and processes or some new tasks, outsourced to two (or more) units of the same organization. The fact that these units function formally as separate companies and that their managers hold the rank of CEOs makes the message more credible.

This method of publicly announcing the fact that an issue has been transferred from the right hand to the left hand can be seen in agreements that serve an important social cause or the development of a sector. It is seen at the level of state institutions, and Poland is not the only example here, as the tendency is present in all European countries. At times, it becomes a bit amusing when, for example, “the ministry supervising or regulating matters in sector X” is also one of the signatories of an agreement with companies in this sector, institutes or social organizations. The result is a bizarre creation with a noble idea, but once its media potential is exhausted, destined for the archives.

The Bleeding Obvious

The demand for content applies also, or should that be primarily, to journalists, online portals and classic media. The essence of their activities is to collect, process and publish information that is of interest to their audiences. At all times, but especially during the ” silly season”, even a simple commentary stating the obvious can become an interesting piece of information. All that matters is that it is voiced by the right mouth, at the right time, to the right person ( if contacted by a journalist) or in the right forum (e.g. an industry congress). As a rule, the media power of such a comment (or sometimes even a comment on a comment) depends on the social role of the author. In the case of CEOs of major companies, well-known investors or relevant ministers, producing such a “news item” is relatively easy, whereas heads of companies aspiring to media attention have to try a little harder.

Competence, risk management and communication integrity

The above-mentioned examples do not, of course, completely cover the phenomenon. This trend is supported by the huge demand for information, the popularity of narratives based on giving ordinary elements of everyday life meaning, as well as by the creativity of PR and communication specialists. It is also significant that the practice of verifying information is virtually disappearing in the media buzz. Traditional media try to do this, but they can inevitably focus on verifying but a small percentage of the most relevant, publicly functioning information. Whether we like it or not, media facts with zero factual content are becoming a standard that we should be aware of and should, if necessary, be able to take advantage of.

From the perspective of managing the consistency of strategic communications, two issues should be considered. Firstly, the form conveys the meaning as much as the content, and reaching for media fact-shams is a predicate from which careful observers can draw conclusions about real events in the organization. This factor should therefore be taken into account in the competitive analysis of the environment.

Furthermore, as it has been pointed out, the effectiveness of such actions is short-term. A deeper, extended analysis of the organizations medium and longer-term activities exposes even the most sophisticated attempt to create facts without facts. Such gimmicks can work out, as long as they are incidental and help to achieve a specific goal. However, if they become the core of the organization’s and its managers” actions, they significantly damage the level of trust, image and reputation of both the company and its leaders.

The Strategic Points™ method, which is based, among other things, on precise market monitoring of the activities of specific entities and their leaders (so-called track recording), makes it possible not only to accurately “read” and diagnose the phenomenon of “facts without facts” in the client’s environment, but also to generate optimal reaction scripts on the basis of in-depth analyses. The client also has the opportunity to precisely examine the risks with regard to their own plans to use such a means of influence.

Sławomir Krenczyk

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