Sean Brown and Simon Kenny on the top ways to deliver authenticity

With entries open for The 2019 Pressies, we take a look at how to deliver authentic content and audiences with Sean Brown, general manager of Mango Communications and convenor of judges for The Pressies, and Simon Kenny, head of communications and McDonald’s NZ.

Define authenticity. What makes content authentic?

Sean Brown: Authenticity is hard to define but you just know when something is authentic, and when it’s not it sticks out like a sore thumb. Without doubt, anything posted on social channels needs to reflect the values and voice of the person or brand posting. Anything that smacks of marketing speak or content that jars will be quickly rejected. 

Simon Kenny: Authentic content is true to a brand’s tone of voice and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. It also needs to have a perspective, and differentiate from other brands.

What are the benefits of authenticity?

Brown: Today’s younger consumer is especially allergic to sales pitches, whereas an authentic voice will encourage them to choose the brand associated with the content.
When a friend talks to a friend in a genuine way and they stay true to their values, they are more likely to trust and engage with the message. Same goes with a brand, content creator or commentator. Influence is a subtle art. If content or a brand experience is too overt – ‘buy this, it’s really amazing’ – you’ll likely alienate people and they’ll be far less likely to engage.

Kenny: People are generally fairly distrusting of anything businesses, government and the media have to say. Even for large companies, changing perceptions is increasingly done one conversation at a time, and in an authentic way.

What about authentic reach?

Brown: It’s one thing to ensure content is authentic, but the audience needs to be as well – there’s no point pushing content out to a whole lot of bots or to fake followers.
It’s very easy to instantly buy followers or up engagement using bots, so it’s important to check social audience authenticity. There are a number of tools available, but we also review engagement rates and watch out for any red flags. For example, if someone has 200k followers but only 20 posts it could signal fake followers, if all the comments are ‘nice post’ from users called Sammy1234 it could signal the use of bots.
The abuse of fake followers and other fake metrics is not only a waste of money, but it’s also damaging to our industry and can have a negative effect on those who genuinely have great engagement.

Kenny: Audience measurement and authenticity is an issue for communicators and marketers alike. Whether it’s a genuine like or a video view, interrogating your measures is critical.  

What are the three key things brands need to think about when it comes to delivering authentic content?


  1. Define your audience, understand what they care about, and how you want them to react to the content
  2. Know your voice and be consistent – content needs to feel like your brand and align with what you do in other channels
  3. Be honest and work with those who genuinely believe in your brand. If using content creators, trust them to deliver content that resonates with their audience – too much control can stifle authenticity


  1. Does anyone other than you and your team care?
  2. Is it aligned to a core problem you’re trying to solve?
  3. How can you prove it worked?

What’s stopping brands from achieving authentic reach right now?

Brown: Firstly, not doing due diligence to ensure the audience is real (i.e. not fake followers) and relevant, that is to say they are primed to engage with the content. However, most comms agencies will ensure this as a matter of course.
Social content is immensely measurable and, when done well, effective with high engagement, positive sentiment, high ROI and can move consumers to action. However, investing in social content and therefore achieving authentic reach is still often competing with traditional media plans

Kenny: It can be hard to change traditional approaches and where budget is prioritized.

Can you give an example of a brand that has delivered authentic social content?

Brown: We recently held a small showcase event for the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 where our ambassadors – both existing and new partners – were able to experience the new device for the first time. The response and outputs were truly genuine – you could feel the excitement and the brand love through the content and they all went over and above what was expected. This shows the power of true brand partnerships, rather than transactional relationships.

Kenny: How to Dad told us he had an idea for remaking the Kiwiburger song. When we brought the Kiwiburger back we let him bring his idea to life and it ended up being one of the best performing ads on YouTube in New Zealand.

Are there any misconceptions you think marketers hold about using PR, social and experiential in their marketing mix?


  • There are a number of misconceptions about the ability of PR and experiential to have an immediate impact on sales. These disciplines are typically used for top-of-funnel awareness but when combined with the right type of social marketing, consumers can be led further down the funnel to take direct action, such as swiping up to unlock discount codes or being sent to a website with a special offer.
  • Another misconception is that public relations is actually just media relations. It is so much more and always starts with understanding why a brand wants or needs to communicate with an audience.
  • Finally, experiential is sometimes viewed as a costly way to engage with a small audience. Alongside layers of social media and public relations, experiential can be the ultimate expression of engaging with a few, amplifying to many. Here the sum of the parts is definitely greater than the whole.

Kenny: Often PR, social and experiential are tactics tagged onto a campaign as nice to haves. Having the thinking further upstream in planning is far more constructive, and can be an integral part of an integrated campaign.

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