The famous nineteenth-century American showman, P.T. Barnum, is quoted as saying: "I don't care what you say about me, just spell my name right." He also made famous his Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus … and is credited with having made the quip “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
You might think that someone remarking on the high number of suckers in the community just had to be a swindler. And that’s a reasonable call. But the consensus among folk who study such things is that P.T. Barnum never actually said it.
However that hasn’t stopped people saying he said it. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
These days, if someone in the media (be it traditional or social) says you said something, or says that you’ve done something, a lot of people will probably believe it -- even if it’s a total fabrication. If you’re wrongly credited with something good, you can probably relax. But if you’re falsely blamed for anything bad, your personal or professional “brand” just might be in big trouble.
In a recent newsletter, US measurement guru KD (Katie) Paine provokes thought by asking a number of questions regarding the impact of the sentiment in media stories (also known as tone, or favorability). http://kdpaine.blogs.com/themeasurementstandard/2011/05/does-sentiment-matter.html
Her first question is along the lines of: Does it actually matter?
Carrying out media and reputational research for literally hundreds of companies and Government agencies over the past 16 years, tells me that whatever messages are linked to your brand matter a great deal.
That’s partly because they frequently carry with them either overt or inferential favorability, and partly because these days those same messages wind up being widely syndicated. They hit audiences from many sources, over and over again. And that learned reputational narrative could effectively destroy your personal or organizational reputation. That’s a place you definitively do not want to be.
In support of this assertion, consider these two statements:
If these statements seem hauntingly familiar, it’s because they’re an aggregation of the basic stuff you learned in Communications 101, with a smattering of Learning and Cognition Studies thrown in for luck. They also lie at the core of most professional communication endeavors – regardless of whether we’re talking about above the line, or below the line activities.
To put it another way, if we hear the same thing from enough of the people we trust, we’ll generally think it’s true – so long as it doesn’t conflict with some of our most closely held cultural values.
P.T. Barnum’s remark about not caring what was said about him may have been nothing more that a throwaway line. He was after all, a journalist in his earlier life, and knew the value of good publicity.
I think if P.T. could have looked into the future to see how many people would feel the need to defend him against the slur of the wrongly attributed “sucker” quip, he might have said: “Spell my name right and get your facts straight. Don’t you boys know … sentiment matters!”