As the cameras got under the skin of British Vogue – and under the feet of its editor – it made for compelling viewing. Rather than dispelling those ‘Devil wears Prada’ stereotypes, it rather deliciously perpetuated them. The tensions, irritations and impatience with the camera crew were palpable, and the candid narration from the fish-out-of-water documentary maker offered much more insight into the industry culture than what you’re seeing on screen.
The programme felt surprisingly – and sometimes brutally – frank, and made me think about the degree to which you relinquish control of your brand image in the pursuit of this level of media exposure. And by granting the public a front row seat into the inner workings of your organisation, do you risk damaging your hard-won brand values?
What makes an elusive fashion bible open its doors for the first time to this sort of fly-on-the-way documentary? To update a phrase for the 21st century – it’s social media, stupid. In an interview, editor Alex Shulman declares that today’s instagram generation demand more intimate knowledge, they want to be privy to the previously unseen side of things, and all the flaws that don’t usually make the cut. We don’t place our idols on a pedestal anymore; we expect access-all-areas passes.
And in this new digital age, with the death of print media often heralded, Vogue isn’t the first magazine to have to diversify both their product and their PR to win new audiences and re-establish its relevance. After similarly lifting the lid on their operations to the BBC earlier this year, Country Life reported a huge boost in readership. The commercial value of these documentaries is compelling and clear to see.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that some of the gloss had rubbed off as a result.
In trying to harness this new generation, we have to applaud bravery in communications, but do these bold moves always pay off reputationally? Is something lost or irreversibly changed as a result?
As communications consultants it’s our job to help our clients navigate this very modern minefield – that is, reputation management and reinvention in a digital age. Where customers can take you to account instantaneously, and those running corporate social media accounts are often the first fire-fighters of oncoming storms.
Companies need to embrace the fact that the dialogue between businesses and consumers has changed tone and tactics. But we also need to be careful not to get too lost down the rabbit hole chasing the zeitgeist. You can’t manage corporate reputation through Twitter or viral gifs alone.
Commanding market confidence, consumer trust and respect requires a broader media strategy. The way I see it there’s still space for more traditional communications alongside the social, and we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
After all, do I want my magazine covers to start resembling instagram posts, as pondered by Vogue’s editor? No thanks. I’d rather see the printed page resonate with 21st century audiences by celebrating some of its conventions and complementing the instant fix of online news, rather than imitating it.
In the era of oversharing, knowing where to draw the line could become our most powerful asset.
Emily Barnes is an Account Manager at Camargue