Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Great Fear

I truly dislike – and am fascinated by – the general corporate fear of communication. As puzzling as it may be today, it’s still around. I recently spoke about this, let’s call it The Great Fear, with Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, U.S.
What are the origins of The Great Fear?
“The Great Fear, as you call it, comes from a twisted view of reality: a belief that that the world is made up of rational actors who all are convinced that a free market knows best and tangible assets are all that really matters.”

So, it comes from the belief that communication will only stir things up? It's a fear of  rocking the boat?
"Yes. But the world is already rocking. The world is more chaotic than most business people realize. If those people stepped out of the warped view that communication will disturb the order of things, they will discover that ambiguity is something that is worth getting used to in the business world today."

What do many managers actually fear?
“Some of this fear comes from worrying about being perfect, which is, of course, impossible. It's easier to say nothing rather than to be wrong. But, not communicating is actually a very strong form of communication in itself. Especially after Web 2.0, if you are not part of the conversation, you are making a very profound statement about your position in the world. At lower levels in the organization, you learn not to criticize because in some organizations senior management does not want any real feedback."

But at those lower levels people still have opinions and act accordingly? Or do managers believe that employees talk less amongst themselves and complain less if they’re not openly communicated to?
“Who knows what they believe about this? But if they do not bother to communicate, there is a very good chance that they also do not listen very well, so the two go hand in hand. It's a vicious circle.”

What would be your advice to a manager who is fearful of communication, or of communicating in the wrong way?
“If you want to truly differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace, do the opposite of what others are doing. In this case, that means communicate more rather than less. Give your opinion freely, and look at dialogue as a way to not only give, but receive feedback.”

What can anyone do to reduce The Great Fear?
“Remember that strategy tells people where to go, but communication tells them how to get there. If you do not communicate in an open, straightforward way both internally and externally, you may as well be hanging a sign on the front door of your business saying ‘Gone fishing’.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Short and sweet

This  week Facebook made new updates triggering all-fresh public outcries. Also, a PR agenecy asked if Facebook is now  "the new internet". So this seemed timely.  (e-cards)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sex, death and corporate communication

Something sexy. Something free. Something deadly. Three facets that are, almost without exception, all featured on every first page of most tabloids in the western world. Every day. On all of them. Of course it’s not an official part of university journalism or communication curriculums to learn that the three should always be featured there, but editors everywhere know that more people pick up a copy if they are. More people read. So, how do I apply this to corporate communication?

Nevermind for now those who groan about tabloids - tabloids are the best-selling newspapers and they're often fantastic journalism. Now, you sell more newspapers if the front page features something scandalous like a sex tape, a deadly event and something you can win – a trip, some money or a car. Put all three up there and you've got effective communication. Rude words, free stuff and death catches peoples’ attention and make them reach for their wallets. Just check the sales figures.

As a corporate communicator, it is my main challenge to apply this very simple equation to customer magazines, internal corporate websites or client newsletters. Because you can’t have the words “naked breasts” on a customer magazine cover and huge, deadly events are rare in corporate corridors anywhere. But I need to find the next best thing. It's actually a passion of mine.

You want managers, employees, customers and suppliers to, metaphorically, reach for their wallets. If they don’t, then what’s the point of spending money on a communications department´?

It’s the task of finding the corporate communication equivalent of the words “naked breasts”, the caption “win a trip to New York” or the headline “5,000 people hit by disaster” that takes up my day.

Because one of the biggest mistakes made in corporate communication is believing that audiences are somehow different here. That they no longer want to read about someone who's getting naked or that they don't want to get something for free anymore.

They're not different.

Communication has the same selling points regardless of whether it's delivered on an internal, corporate website, on a tabloid front page or in a television show. Yes, slight differences is "targeted" audiences, but same human population. Same individuals. Same needs. Same behaviour.

In the corporate world the message is often construed as boring or even threatening before it’s even sent – because there’s no nudity and it probably contains calls for some kind of exhausting action, some kind of effort from the audience. For the receiver, there’s nothing in it for them.

As a corporate communicator your starting position is a joke.

So I wish more managers, more board members and, in fact, more communications directors took this predicament to heart.

I wish I could talk about naked breasts with them more often.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yeah, yeah we hear you...

“Is it going to be pure Pravda, as usual? Or can we try and do this properly? Do it for real and not waste time, I mean?”

I was asked this recently, by an employee who was going to be interviewed for the company's internal magazine. She was disillusioned by the communication she'd been receiving. I think she’d simply had enough of it.

Failing to recognize the skepticism among a company’s employees and to deal with it is one of the most common blunders in corporate communication. It happens when you don’t know your audience – when a vice president or top manager, a corporate communicator or a press officer, believes that the message is created when he or she hits the "publish" button.

The habitual misjudgment and short-selling of the audience by management groups and consequently corporate communicators continues to be mind-blowing. And the idea of closing the consequent cracks in specific corporate cultures with actual, real communication is truly a cool one.

One of the top books on this is still Company image and reality: a critique of corporate communication, by David Bernstein, released in 1984. He writes:

"Most mistakes of company communication – both internal and external – occur when the target audience has no face. The word target betrays a militaristic approach to communication. You don’t enter into dialogue with targets. You hit them. Or try to."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

              "Ju folkligare man är, desto fler når man."

                                       (Hans Alfredson, 1931- )

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Message received

In Tokyo there are little squares strewn out across the city, for smoking. White lines painted on the ground and often a little railing that you can lean on mark the spot.

And then these signs, of course.

These signs are good on so many levels – they sure worked on me. The message sets in motion your hang-ups about embarrassing yourself in public – and so triggers emotion. I think farting is funny, so the humor is covered as well. They don’t forbid or demand anything or tell you to do something, but instead simply asks you to decide if you may want to be considerate to your fellow man. They’re not condescending, official or authoritative in any way so the sign people have known and respected their audience.

Simple. It’s communication at its best.