When it comes to investing most of us believe the sage advice of good financial planners: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
And yet, when it comes to communications, I am still seeing many organisations doing exactly that. In particular, I am amazed by the fixation with media relations as the “be all and end of all” of their communication strategy.
Let me be clear: I am NOT saying media relations is unimportant – it is very important. And, I am NOT, saying journalists and news outlets are no longer hugely influential – or that media relations is a waste of time.
What I am saying is that the influence of journalists in shaping public opinion can be over-stated and the role and dominance of traditional media is being eroded.
This means companies have to think very carefully about planning their communications – in particular thinking about building relationships, as opposed to running into the street and blurting information into the crowd.
I am also not advocating throwing all your eggs into the online media basket. The digital world is crowded with a lot of dodgy claims and fleeting trends – this week’s new app (that you absolutely have to be part of) will quickly be overtaken by something else (probably being developed in some 14 year old’s bedroom right now!).
By all means look at Facebook and Twitter – but as part of a broader suite of communication channels that are relevant to the audience with whom you want to connect.
For me, the focus should be on thinking about how people want to be treated and acting with respect and integrity. As a customer, stakeholder or voter, I want you to tell me the truth. I want you to provide information that is balanced and helps me understand. I want you to give me options. I don’t want you to shout at me, or call me up when I am in the middle of dinner. When you are wrong, admit it, tell me what you are doing to fix the problem and move on.
There is a risk of communications people living in a media bubble – where they get fixated on a world inhabited by journalists, politicians and the veritable industry of stakeholder groups and wannabe advocates.
Most of the people you need to influence are just getting on with their lives. Forget the headlines, they’re far more worried about what they forgot to put in their kid’s lunchbox today than about criticism of your company or the latest scandal. Way back in my news producing days, I remember getting home from work one night after a particularly big day on the newsfront. I think the Berlin Wall had come down overnight. I got home to my wife and one year old son. Forget about the Berlin wall, my wife’s focus that night was (rightly) on two things– bed and bath for the child. Perspective is a marvellous thing. At times communications professionals need a heavy dose.