December 19, 2013
A lot has been written recently on how political bias defines prevalent viewpoints on two of the most scrutinised issues of the day: climate change and GMOs.
In particular, this question is posed: why do people who define themselves as left of centre believe that climate change is real, citing good science, while being almost universally anti-GMO, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus being that GMOs are safe and beneficial?
Probably because a more dominant component of the traditional left of centre worldview takes over i.e. mistrust of big business. Given that GMOs are seen as a product of big business, and contribute to their profits, the science is overridden.
What’s the communications slant on this?
The GMO case is one of many where companies ignore human nature in favour of rationality. In that industry, and countless others, when looking to defend themselves against attack or, more broadly, to manage their reputations, they argue at the wrong level, basing argumentation on fact, ideally backed by science.
But what’s really under attack is often not the facts themselves, but the legitimacy of a profit-making organisation. So what should companies do? Grossly oversimplified, the following: foster a culture where being nice, honest and engaged trumps all; then communicate that culture through real people, not highly polished corporate speak.
December 1, 2013
I’ve often heard corporate communicators representing organisations under attack cite one of these three approaches and declare that they’ll turn a corner as long as they aggressively pursue it:
- No one understands what we do. “We’ve been too quiet and have not explained exactly what we do – when people understand how we operate, they’ll be supportive.”
- Fact vs. fiction. “There are too many falsehoods being perpetuated by critics. We need to rebut these far more actively, ideally using 3rd parties.”
- Draw a line the sand. “By being too quiet, we’ve let critics get away with murder. Enough is enough. Let’s send in the artillery and attack the opposition.”
- 3 is unlikely to work: belligerence makes things worse.
- There’s nothing inherently wrong with 1 and 2, but they don’t work in isolation. If both are practiced simultaneously, and with great skill, they’ll buy some time.
So what does work?
- If 1 really is true i.e. “no one understands what we do”, a campaign outlining how the organisation operates is not enough. There are probably deeper cultural realities that need addressing: why does no one know what it does? Presumably, they’ve appeared secretive, conceited or combative over the years (possibly all 3). Beyond information provision, a more deep-rooted change in tone and manner is vital: transparency, humility and a willingness to answer questions need to be palpable, with real people at the forefront, not just the polished spokesperson.
- In there is no truth at all in 1 i.e. if the organisation in question operates in a space in which no amount of cultural change and information provision can improve a damaged reputation, the communicator is fairly powerless. Reputational enhancement can only come about through significant business change i.e. dropping an unpopular product or service, or adapting the operating model or parts of the supply chain. Clearly, these sorts of big decision are C-suite remit and thus (usually) beyond the communicator’s jurisdiction. Unless real change is likely, the communicator is left fighting fires and attempting to stall the inevitable.
November 10, 2013
I developed the digital public affairs wheel a couple of years ago, which does a decent job of summarising how digital can support the three main components of execution in Public Affairs i.e. intelligence gathering, message delivery and relationship/coalition building. What it misses is the background stuff i.e. the unseen work which makes the execution actually work. To this end, I think the following 3 + 3 split works quite nicely i.e. you still have the execution (the “seen”) but in parallel we have the “unseen.”
October 12, 2013
Heard recently: “how would we target a digital audience?”
Although there’s far more overlap these days, most communications specialisms still focus on an explicit audience: public affairs on stakeholders who impact policy-making, brand marketing on end-consumers, and so forth.
But there’s no such thing as a “digital audience.” Digital is horizontal, straddling every communications discipline, and should therefore be ingrained in each.
The fact that the question is still asked, however, helps to explain why some communications professionals still feel comfortable omitting digital from their toolkit: if a “digital audience” is something entirely different, it’s for someone else to worry about.
September 27, 2013
September 15, 2013
Public Affairs is the communications discipline that most easily gets away with being unstrategic: frequently (not always, clearly) it can be executed without being linked to clear business objectives and a corresponding, measurable plan of execution.
The amount of detail often inherent in issues managed by PA pros is far greater than it is in any other communications discipline. Simply being on top of it and understanding which issues and stakeholders matter and doing something about them, however spurious, can be seen as doing enough. Even when there is no way of truly demonstrating outcomes that benefit the organization’s bottom line.
PA is often not expected to be as measurable as other disciplines, certainly in terms of true outcomes. This is largely because the ultimate outcome – impact on policy – is governed by so many external factors beyond a PA professional’s control. They are therefore often not held accountable for failure, certainly not compared to say a marketer, who is held entirely accountable if a hike in activity has not resulted in an increase in sales.
Many PA professionals have little to no experience of strategic communications, and operate in a space in which deep knowledge of policy and relationships are often seen as more important. Granted, both remain essential, but increasingly, influence has to be built up beyond the corridors of power and broadsheet media, and to do so, PA needs to adopt the staples of strategic communications (research, strategic planning, measurement and so forth). However, given that they view themselves as political beasts, not communicators, a number of PA pros are reluctant to do so.
The PA function often remains under-resourced, largely because it is frequently seen as a cost by the people who control the purse strings. Small PA teams thus too often spend their time doing the basics, or fire-fighting, rather than planning for the future.
August 25, 2013
A thought raised by a colleague in a meeting earlier this week: “why only show our own case studies? Let’s also showcase the work we wish we’d done.”
I like this. Sure, it’s someone else’s work, but you exhibit the following by showcasing it:
- You’re curious enough to look beyond your own backyard
- You’re humble enough to admit others might have done it better
- You know where to set the bar for excellence (and presumably, it’s the bar for where you want to go)
What’s the work I wish I’d done?
Here’s a start: