I ask you – Why bother putting a spokesperson up for an interview, with a set of concocted key messages ,when the outcome could see your potential market switching off, thinking you’re a fraud or creating an hilarious viral parody at the expense of your brand?
I’ve had endless discussions with people on their views about the highly-spun and often inane ramblings of corporate spokespeople that are rolled out in front of the media each day. The irony of the dodging and weaving as journalists jostle with the ‘talking heads’ in order to squeeze out a direct answer that was never printed on the ‘lines to take’ sheet. What a waste of effort and a loss of opportunity to be heard. Because people are switched off or in the throes of it.
Lying, when talking to the general public about something deemed as difficult subject matter, has become an art form with dire cultural consequences. While we teach our little ones to be honest with their words it seems that ethos seeps away in the ivory towers of business and government.
How have we left our integrity at the door so willingly? Are we masters of communication or just minions at the mercy of the share price, the profit margin or the litigation threat, working for the holy grail which is the ultimate cover-up?
PR’s and corporate communications people invested in the ‘weasel words’ with great enthusiasm in the 1990’s. They were further inspired by the media itself who created ‘West Wing’ and set a generation of communications professionals on a ‘I want to be just like that’ trajectory that has grossly effected the quality of work coming from the sector; lacking in imagination, looking to suppress and conflate information, aiming to be seen as winning at all costs.
Social connectedness has been the undoing of many a spun or obtuse public statement. People now talk about how they are being treated by those running Governments, banks, fast-food chains, agriculture, airlines and the like. In fact, from this culture of hazy and questionable transparency has been borne a new form of social campaigning. It is anchored purely in providing the truth to a disillusioned public. This is the real space where people are engaged, actually listening and responding to what they’re being told. In short, the approach is working.
The ace in the deck for modern communicators – start-ups do it well, as do not-for-profits – is their corporate value system from the get-go. Their mission statements are not like traditional corporates with their loose example of ‘what the hell we’re meant to be doing’ but instead a credo for delivering a service or product to an audience they actually respect.
Most of the time these organisations are opting for close engagement using social platforms, digital advertising (which is highly targeted) but also the winning ingredient, the ability to go deeper with their audiences through experiential marketing campaigns. Imagine doing that? Actually engaging in two-way conversations which are mutually beneficial for consumer as well as company. I bet you’d listen too.
There was a time when I was proud to explain to people how I made my living but PR’s, public affairs advisors and media aides need to take a good look at where we sit in the bigger scheme of things. Because the landscape is different and the majority of us haven’t budged an inch. We haven’t acknowledged that the ability to control is gone, not because you can get your spokesperson to deliver your lines but because people know crap when they hear it.
Instead of being slaves to ensuring that our employees can receive a get out of jail free card after every environmental disaster, profit loss or gain, or anything that makes them look mildly ridiculous, why don’t we show some leadership? How and when will the communications sector innovate to make it relevant in a world where everyone can communicate with anyone, particularly if they want to call your statement a falsehood?
Yes, it will take work. Yes, it requires an enormous cultural shift. But the time is ripe for the new, as we have a world where humanity and environment is slowly creeping back onto the public agenda despite the efforts of those making money from our discontent. I thank the openly disengaged and millennials for this shift. It is our very strong reminder that this behaviour is neither sustainable or ultimately profitable, on any level.
Next time you’re with your senior executives discussing your communications strategy why not suggest a shift in approach and get the discussion going on how you can do better at saying what you really mean. Begin the transformation because it’s already too late to delay it. Your audience will thank you.