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The communication illusion

Apr 04, 2016
In the communication age, have we lost the art of communication? Steve Jordan thinks, perhaps, we might have. Facebook does not constitute a PR campaign – whatever you might think.

I visited my grandchildren the other day. Well it was Christmas after all so I thought I should make the effort. As I walked into the front room the 18 and 15-year-old boys were sitting side by side on the sofa looking at their phones. They didn’t raise their heads. On closer inspection I found them to be texting – each other!    

Later that day, the younger boy announced that he had an ambition to skydive. “That’s interesting,” said I, “where do you go to do that?”  “Dunno,” he replied, again without releasing his gaze from the device. “Well can you press some buttons on that thing that might tell you,” said I, suggesting he might like to Google ‘sky diving centres’ or something similar. With which he started talking to the phone and getting back electronic, inappropriate and totally unhelpful answers from some moronic robot that had taken up residence in the thing. After asking the same question in three different ways and getting the same nonsensical reply he announced that there wasn’t anywhere to fulfil his lifelong ambition and resumed texting his brother. This, apparently, is progress.    

I have a quotation on my office wall from George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George died over 65 years ago and what was undoubtedly true then is, in my opinion, even more so now.  How many times have you heard someone protesting “Well I sent you an e-mail”. Maybe you did but for the communication to take place it also has to arrive, be opened, be read, be understood and, if necessary, acted upon. If we ever knew that, we seem to have forgotten.  

The same is true with corporate communication.  I often hear comments to the equivalent of: “Yes, we do our own PR, we have a Facebook page and 2000 followers on Twitter.”  Well, that’s wonderful, congratulations, but it’s not PR.  It’s just indiscriminate background noise.  

True PR is a meeting of minds between a company and the press that serves its customers.  It requires the company to understand what it is its customers need to know about its products and how best to get that message across in a clear, succinct and memorable way. Each story has to be prepared with care and tuned to match the style and requirements of each publication. Editors need to be consulted, given assurance that the information is accurate and be given permission to print it. Photographs and illustrations should be high quality, relevant and sufficiently interesting to catch the eye.   

Nor is it sufficient to send an editor a copy of your newsletter. That’s just lazy. It might be interesting but the editor can’t use any of the content, even if he wanted to: it’s your copyright.  

The problem is the illusion that the communication has taken place.  Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and the rest are great toys but they are not replacements for a properly thought through and executed PR campaign. Do not be deceived in thinking that they might be.

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