The People Principle
After spending a couple of decades in the communications industry, I have to confess that I sometimes still struggle to explain what I do for a living. Luckily, setting up my own consulting firm has forced me to find an easy way to summarize it. Communications isn’t rocket science; it’s the science and art of engaging with people.
Ironically, we have a branding problem. Communications professionals like to stick out from the crowd and have come up with countless terms to describe their services: public relations, communications, branding, marketing, behavior change, storytelling and many other labels.
The current flavor of the month is to use terms like “social campaigning,” "cause marketing" and “advocacy.” When I hear anyone utter words like these to describe their brand new approach to communications, I can’t help but smile, because I've been there.
It doesn’t matter what you call it. It doesn't matter whether you're marketing a product, selling a cause or convincing your partner that your idea has merit. It doesn't even matter how you're going about it—advertising in the New York Times, running a global campaign or taking someone out to dinner. Basically, we're all seeking to influence other people.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin
The secret ingredients are similar for most situations. I’ll give them to you for free, as they belong in the public domain: Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to do? Why? What are you telling them? Where and when are you engaging them? And, last but not least, how do you measure your success?
If you can answer these questions, putting thought, energy and effort into the process, you can solve pretty much any communications problem. As I said earlier, it’s not rocket science, but it is a science. Stick to the formula.
If you are missing one of the components or you have not resolved it properly, your communications will likely malfunction. Figure out the faulty or incomplete component and try again. You don’t necessarily need a fancy communications consultant to do this for you.
So why on earth would you want to hire a consultant like me if you can do all this yourself?
Well, communications is also an art. There are countless ways of reaching people and influencing their thoughts and their actions. How you plan and execute your plan will determine how you affect them.
“All great achievements require time.” Maya Angelou
We live in an age of information overload. We have infinite options and not enough time to parse the data. Few people have the time or inclination to focus on communications. Usually, it’s added into the mix at the last minute, with predictable results.
In truth, most people—particularly those who work for organizations—are too busy and too close to the problem at hand. Usually, they don’t have the luxury of starting with a clean slate and a neat formula, like the one above. Instead, they have to apply themselves to a program or project that already exists.
These programs are born into the chaos of the workplace. They evolve over time, along with other priorities, and grow organically. As a result, they become messy and complicated. It’s difficult to focus on communications, when it’s just one piece of the equation.
If you factor in the threat of failure, it's understandable why most people quickly become risk-averse. The reluctance to take responsibility or try new ideas becomes ingrained in our culture. The downside is that everyone thinks alike and misses significant opportunities.
"An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience
all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field." Niels Bohr
Consultants like myself are specialists who can help bring order to the chaos. After all, most communications challenges share the same DNA. After years of solving complex—and some seemingly impossible—problems and learning from my mistakes, I have developed the ability to diagnose a situation very quickly and give strategic advice. It’s my superpower.
With no emotional ties or organizational baggage, I can assess a team’s performance in an impartial manner and provide high-level guidance about achieving goals. I can also propose and take responsibility for new ventures, while bringing a different perspective.
As a self-professed creative, I don’t see things the same way as everyone else. I see patterns in complicated situations and have a finely honed ability to untangle messy threads. I can think ahead and anticipate how abstract and ambiguous situations will unfold, all while keeping calm. Most importantly, I see challenges as opportunities to solve and evolve.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill
After living and working in numerous countries around the world, I understand people at their most fundamental level and know how to engage them. Communications isn’t just about strategizing and planning. It’s about recognizing and enjoying the wonderful complexity of our fellow humans.
While we can be frustrating and fickle creatures, we are surprisingly straightforward most of the time. The secret is to listen to what people have to say. They will tell you what they need and want... if you can just listen.
The same applies to you. No matter what situation you're facing or how difficult things seem, there is always a way forward. Talk to me about your specific situation. I guarantee that we will find a solution if we put our heads together. After all, it is all about people.
Start by reading through these questions and thinking through your situation. When you’re ready to take action, let’s talk!