When did the people leave the public? Last time I looked, communications professionals were supposed to be communicating to humans. You know, Homo Sapiens. Educating them, informing them, opening their eyes, and shifting their perspective. Too often, communicators lose their way. There's a simple fix. Start with people…and never lose sight of them.
Here are some of the familiar follies many agency and in-house teams make, as well as how to flip the script with just a little of that human touch.
·Jumping straight to creative: We all do it. The challenge arrives. Our creative engines ignite. We can't wait to unleash a torrent of ideas! But do we really know who we're trying to reach? And, no, “18-to-49-year-old males who like music” does not qualify as an audience target. Before worrying about the big idea, hone in on a real, actual person. Obsess about their emotional state and not their demographic stats alone. Focus on those who can move the brand and business. If you can't paint a vividly detailed picture of the individual you're trying to engage, breakthrough thinking is unlikely to follow.
·Not talking to people: You've been prescient enough to determine that 20-something urban guys who play in bands are most likely to move your product. Win them and win the day. So, why do so many follow this discovery by locking themselves in conference rooms to “get inside their target's heads?” In this case, take to the local watering holes and pull up a stool. Catch a gig. Chat up the barkeep. Interview some patrons. Surveys and phone calls are nice, but sit downs and real-life conversations are infinitely better.
·Failing to ask “why?” Ever play the never-ending game of “why” with a child? Why is it so dark? Because the sun went down. But whyyy? Kids ask simple questions that are at once hard to answer, yet elicit revealing responses. Employ the same technique when talking to your communications audience. They love doing their laundry first thing in the morning. Why? It makes them feel more confident about the day. Why? Stay the course and people will share what's really motivating their behavior.
·Defaulting to channel of choice: Even if you've navigated the aforementioned pitfalls, the lingering threat of channel blindness exists – another symptom of ignoring people. If you've got the insight and the nugget of a big idea, don't “dumb it down” to a media relations program. Spend time considering where your audience consumes and connects to information. A bold concept to reach teens likely demands non-traditional channels and metrics miles away from press impressions. Don't be afraid to adopt your thinking to vehicles that compellingly communicate your story and connect with those that matter – even if they're outside your purported purview.
Public relations – check that, human communications – is evolving at lightning speed. Innovators refuse to follow prescribed rules or previous protocols. They're keeping their eyes and minds focused on the one thing that hasn't changed since communications began. Power to the people.
Steve Bonsignore is SVP and deputy director of the New York consumer practice at Cohn & Wolfe.