A key to comms success: accepting the personal/professional grey area

March 7, 2010

Open, honest, humble and transparent communication is the order of the day. Organisations need to abide by this mantra or risk losing the goodwill of customers, constituents and regulators alike; just look at the Toyota debacle, in which their poor PR response has taken more of a bashing than the faulty cars at the root of the issue.

A big part of my job lies in helping organisations harness their internal expertise in a manner which resonates with their audiences. Meaning, get them to communicate themselves rather than doing it for them or trying to coax others into doing so (i.e. media.) But what is as important as the actual substance of their expertise is to abide by the “medium is the message” maxim, meaning that how they communicate is as important as what they’re actually imparting.

For this to really work however, people who communicate on behalf of organisations must accept the personal/professional grey area: the two must not be mutually exclusive anymore. Given that audiences expect open, honest and humble output, a highly structured and corporate style of communication will not usually be effective, whatever the message. Communicators need to offer at least a glimpse of the personal if they are to be credible. And no, this doesn’t mean that CEOs should be showing their holiday snaps to clients; rather, output should have a name on it, and that name should showcase a personality that is more akin to what it might be like in private than any archaic set of rules governing corporate communications in a bygone age.

In short, be yourself. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Many people feel uncomfortable showcasing their personality in a professional setting, while many, many others can’t get their head around it even if they’d love to let go. If speaking on behalf of an organisation, they believe that they need to “speak funny” to be credible.

Fret not however: we are gradually seeing a change, and the dynamics of it are very interesting. Seeing the damage that solely sticking to the old-school model is causing, people on top of the food chain are appreciating the value of a more open, personal and informal manner of communicating. Meanwhile, younger people who have practically grown up with the web and view the personal/professional grey area as a reality are increasingly making the grade within organisations. Last up, the dullards in the middle. Wake up!

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