The challenge of communications?

Published by Tony Quinlan on

In the recent Euroblog 2007 survey, the following question/response combination was included:

Question 12: What do you believe is the most important challenge for public relations and communication management within the next three years?

Please pick the most important item in your opinion.

  1. Dealing with new communication channels and technologies.
  2. Establishing new methods for evaluation and controlling communications.
  3. Linking communication to corporate/organisational strategies.
  4. Establishing ethical behaviour and conducts in PR practice.
  5. Finding new ways to communicate in an intercultural context.

It’s the perfect example of what I was talking about here regarding the weakness of questionnaires and surveys.  Giving me a choice between five irrelevant choices.  Do you want to know what I think, or do you want to have some nice numbers at the end of the survey?

Personally I think none of those are the key challenges of communications people in the next three years.  And I think the belief that we’re being enlightened at considering those issues shows just how far we’ve yet to go.

Points one and two are largely mechanics for most comms professionals.  And the assumption that we can “control communications” is a massively dangerous and damaging one.

Point three might have been a new idea 10 or 15 years ago, but today it’s just common sense and not-even-close-to-best practice.

Points four and five are increasingly important to my mind – and point four is too often dismissed in PR circles – we’re not doing any harm or exactly lying.  I’ve got lots to say on that, but it’s the topic of another long blogpost another day.

I think the most important challenge is greater than all of those.  It’s taking communications at it’s core – creating understanding between audiences – and getting serious about it – including what other fields are learning about how people think and create patterns.  It’s treating people as intelligent, trustworthy adults who can think for themselves and reach their own conclusions if they’re given the full picture.  It’s becoming champions and challengers of how to communicate in different ways depending on the circumstances.  It’s abandoning the intellectually safe high ground of business jargon and abstract concepts for straight, honest and frank discussion and illuminating stories.



David Tebbutt · 8 March 2007 at 7:59 pm

“intelligent, trustworthy adults who can think for themselves and reach their own conclusions if they’re given the full picture.”
Most people would be paralysed by receiving the full picture. What is the full picture? Have we got enough hours left in our lives to get the full picture on anything?

Tony Quinlan · 9 March 2007 at 11:59 am

Good point. I think some of it depends on how you give them the full picture – data and information will certainly paralyse any normal human being. And if they’ve never been treated like intelligent, trustworthy adults they might be paralysed of pure shock.
Let’s call it a fuller picture then. But the principle still holds. Creating understanding between groups and allowing people to make their own minds up, rather than pretending otherwise.

David Tebbutt · 10 March 2007 at 7:35 am

A few weeks ago, I watched Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. From the way it was presented, you would have thought he was giving a ‘fuller picture’.
Then, last week, I watched Channel 4’s “The Great Global Warming Swindle” which also provided a ‘fuller picture’.
Taking the two together, one would hope that an intelligent person would have enough information to decide their position on global warming/climate change. But you would have to drill much deeper – at a minimum into the backgrounds of the scientists and the funding sources for the films.
I’m inclined to think that Gore has an impressive bandwagon going, built on a shaky foundation: his observations are meticulously accurate, but his conclusions seem wrong.
As the second film showed, the sun is more likely to be the principal cause of our woes rather than carbon dioxide.
I’m not sure these presentations of the fuller information have helped me much. There’s a lurking suspicion that another film will materialise which will add to the confusion.
The problem is “where does the fuller picture come from?” If it’s gathered from authoritative sources, you’d think that would be the end of it. But as we see above, it isn’t.
If it’s from a single source, it will be even more biased.
Multiple sources and a reasonable-sized ‘crowd’ might lead somewhere but, in a business context, this has to be balanced against the time available.
It ends up a question of faith. You take in as much as you can and then rely on instinct or blind faith to draw your conclusions. You have no choice.
How did Rupert Murdoch put it? Ah, yes:
“You can’t build a strong corporation with a lot of committees and a board that has to be consulted every turn. You have to be able to make decisions on your own.”
How long would it have taken to give all board members ‘fuller information’ regarding the MySpace purchase? Too long, I suspect.

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