Friday, 7 February 2014

Ideas versus Truth by Jo Furnival

I come from a place where it’s all about the idea. If you’ve got a great idea, the rest (doesn’t always, but more often than not) will follow. Unsurprisingly, the company for which I’ve spent the past nearly 4 years devising and executing creative communications campaigns is called All about the Idea. But for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been consulting for another business; a strategic insights company called Truth. No prizes for guessing what they’re all about.

In communications, an idea is often the difference between something that sparks media interest and the other 99.9% of so-called stories that die a death, unloved in a journalist’s inbox. A great idea can turn nothing into something; a nugget into a story. And you know what they say about truth: It should never get in the way of a good story.

Thus, it’s this relationship between truth and storytelling that is of particular interest to me at the moment, as I look at things from a slightly different angle; the proverbial turd unpolished. And as I check what’s trending on Twitter, watch the videos that are doing the rounds on Facebook and finally read what the ‘snail media’ have to say about it all in the papers that evening, it occurs to me that perhaps this truth vs. tale interplay is topical outside of the Jo microcosm…

Buzzfeed cries out to the digital masses, “This Short Film Shows Just How Terrifying Life Is For LGBT People In Russia”, ESPN cites “draconian laws of suppression” and “significant peril”, while Marketing magazine reports, “Sochi 2014: How sponsors have responded to calls for them to defend gay rights”. But a brief exchange with Martyn Andrews put the truth magnifying glass over the story.

Andrews’ headline, “Media hype around propaganda law has ‘negative effect’ on Russian LGBT community”, is not exactly what one might expect from an openly gay (he actually came out on Russian television) TV presenter and journalist permanently residing in Sochi. Far from appreciating the demonstration of solidarity, members of the LGBT community within the 2014 Winter Olympics host city express concerns that “heavy handed” media overshadowing the Games could cause Russian society to blame them “for spoiling the Olympics.”

Now, I’m not saying that a story necessarily precludes truth – it wouldn’t be a very smart move if I wanted to continue my career in media relations! But a story doesn’t tell itself; it is told by someone. A story does not exist in a vacuum. Stories are stories because they have context; they are created in relation to culture. Truth on the other hand, now truth exists per se. It is pure, without prejudice. It simply is. That is the nature of truth. But this is the rhetoric of philosophers and back in the real world, truth is unobtainable, an inaccessible ideal about which we can dream, that we pursue but can never reach. Truth will forever be the mistress of Subjectivity and Time. It is true for me, for now.

So, if we can’t have truth, what can we have? Well, we can have another story; a different storyteller, another approach, alternative angle, a view from somewhere a little bit closer, with a different filter or a clearer focus. Andrews’ report from Sochi, for instance. It tells us a different story. And perhaps by absorbing enough stories and ideas, we can try to find our own path to the truth.

Jo Furnival is an account manager in communications at All About The Idea. For more information, visit and follow on Twitter @allabouttheidea.