DAVID LEE of Public Affairs Co-operative says that good communications isn’t easy – but is founded on some very simple principles…
Communication is an extremely broad church – but its purpose is actually very straightforward.
Some purveyors of PR and associated services might try to persuade you otherwise, but look beyond the smoke and mirrors.
In the space of one day, we are all assailed with an enormous range of communications – from a leaflet pushed through your door for a fast- food takeaway and an email or website pop-up offering you a discount on a holiday or night out to a comment article trying to persuade you of the merits supporting a particular policy or political view.
All are trying to achieve three basic things: (1) attract your attention (2) engage your interest and (3) make it easy for you to take the next step – and ideally, persuade you to do so.
So the fast-food takeaway needs an attractive leaflet (no washed-out pictures of dodgy-looking fare, please) to make you take a look in the first place. Then they need to engage you with an offer, a promise of high quality or something to make them stand out – enough to persuade you keep the leaflet in a place you’ll remember and want to call them next time you fancy a carry-out.
Columnists and PR executives might believe they are doing something much more high-minded, but essentially all communications are trying to do the same three things – attract, engage and persuade. A campaign might not be going through a letter-box, and often, the target audience is very much more focused – but it’s all essentially about attraction, engagement and persuasion.
In the case of a community wind farm, for example, you have to engage and persuade a range of stakeholders to have any chance of success – so you need to think about how you attract and inform people of your proposal in the first place.
As someone who worked in the media for more than 20 years, I would urge people to always think about communication in its broadest sense.
It is easy to see media coverage as the be-all and end-all. I used to think that – but it is definitely not true.
Of course it is still important to feature in a positive way in newspapers, broadcast media – and to share links or clips immediately via digital and social media.
However, positive media coverage is rarely sufficient in itself to change hearts and minds and shift the focus of a campaign. It is, in truth, a supporting actor; the lead roles are taken by others. They are not as sexy as media, but they make the difference; “they” are effective stakeholder engagement and persuasive evidence-based documents.
To achieve your goal, you generally need to persuade a small number of key people of your position. Get to know them and think about their perspectives and objectives – and look for common ground.
Engaging with them and putting solid, evidence-based arguments in front of them is the way to go, ideally in clear and concise documents – backed up with relevant media work.
It’s all about linking everything up effectively. It might sound simple, but it’s not.
So, in summary, think of communications of any kind in terms of attract, engage and persuade – and understand that media will not achieve anything much unless supported by good evidence and the ability to engage effectively with those you need to persuade.