Training Bulletin Issue 62
If you're in a hole don't keep digging
Seems obvious, really. But a lot of companies finding themselves getting bad publicity, make things worse by the way they react. No matter how well-run your organisation may be, things completely outside your control (and sometimes things that you could have avoided) can put you on the front pages of the papers or all over the Internet. What you do when that happens can either make the problem much worse or can put you on the road to recovery.
It comes down to how you communicate with your audience.
Read on to find out how some companies just kept right on digging, and how you can avoid the same mistakes.
A few recent public relations disasters
- A manufacturer of sportswear came under the spotlight when leggings they sold were of such thin fabric as to be rather too sheer. Instead of admitting to quality control issues with its supplier, the company's Chair put the blame on fat customers buying clothing that was too tight and that then wore through when their thighs rubbed together.
Don't dig that hole deeper by blaming your customers.
- A company selling vitamin pills launched a campaign which was seen as suggesting that only people with perfect bodies ought to be seen on the beach. The CEO, rather than listening to the concerns of commentators, attacked them as having mental health issues around their own body images.
Don't dig that hole deeper by attacking the public.
- A car maker issued a recall over faulty accelerators only after a consumer group retracted its ‘Recommended’ rating from multiple models.
Don't dig that hole deeper by trying to ignore the problem.
Could this list be longer? Oh, yes: the company that fired lots of staff at once, leaving no-one in management knowing the password to their own Twitter account; the company that launched a new version of a popular product, leading customers to buy up and hoard the old version, and on and on.
Why should a writing company care about this?
Everyone enjoys reading about other people's prat falls, possibly with a mild shiver of worry about how long they will continue to dodge the bullet themselves. We're concerned because at the core of many of these problems is that classic issue of a failure to communicate. We're all about communication here at Plain Words.
Every organisation needs to think about how it communicates with people, be they its own employees, its customers, its critics or indeed any other interested groups. Some problems can't be avoided but they can be made worse by poor communication.
It also helps to have joined-up thinking when considering all the other ways you communicate – how you promote yourself, how you write press releases, case studies, annual reports and so on.
Well, that sounds fine in theory…
It does, doesn't it? So how do you do it? You have a clear communication strategy that covers at a minimum these key points:
- What your voice is, that is, how your use of language supports the image you want
- Lists of everyone you potentially might need to talk to
- The kinds of communications you need to promote your product or service
- The kinds of problems you might run into
- How you will communicate under each circumstance
- Who is involved and what their responsibilities are
- What resources you have to help
Whose job is it?
Marketing and corporate communications can potentially be everyone's job, if you accept the very sound theory that all your staff are your ambassadors. Most places do, however, rely on a couple of people who are responsible for one or more aspects of how that organisation communicates.
A few useful hints
It's worth thinking about both your own staff and your external readers in terms of who they are and what they want from you rather than just what you want to tell them. How much do you know about their drivers and motivators? How are you helping them?
The way you talk and write gives a certain image of who you are – do you know what impression you want to give and the different writing styles that support it?
For example, do you feel you are more traditional or contemporary? Formal or informal? Profit-driven or in a helping role?
More importantly, would your audience agree with that image or do they see you as something different? Which of the following would you be more likely to write?
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Is your personal preference in line with the image you need to project?
What kinds of problems might you face as a company? What written responses do you have ready to go for each?
Press releases, case studies, annual reports, newsletters, articles, blogs, speeches: are you confident that these all support your overall company objectives? Are they consistent in the image they offer of your organisation?
We are launching a new course, Marketing & Corporate Communications – Improve your Writing Skills, which answers these questions and many more to help you stay out of future compilations of great corporate communication failures. See the web page for more information or contact us at to find out more.