This is a momentous day. Democracy has spoken and we’re going to leave the EU. Whatever your emotions – and I suspect most of us are feeling shell-shocked regardless of the box we placed our cross in – one thing is clear. If you want to influence decision-making, listen, look and learn.
I’ve been working in public relations for several decades now. Whilst a great deal has changed technologically, the basic premise that you have to know your audience hasn’t. That means finding out more about them – what they like and don’t like – rather than having no rapport and telling them what to do.
Whilst working as Head of PR at one of our regional universities I took part in a year-long action learning programme. One of the first tasks we were given was to draw a picture that represented how we perceived the organisation. My small group of four senior managers came up with a collective image that showed a fortress protected by barbed wire and gun turrets.
That perception was mirrored by other groups whose own representations shared similar features. Was that response expected? Perhaps. What was important, though, was to consider how best it could be changed. It wouldn’t be easy but it was vital. Trying to understand why people see something in a certain way has to be the starting point of any effective communications strategy. It may be something you want to hang on to and nurture – the world’s most popular brands are currently Apple, Google, Microsoft and Coca-Cola – but if you’re after smiles and a sense of belonging, get rid of metaphorical weaponry. It won’t happen with just a new logo and website. There’s much more to it than that.
When I’m running a PR workshop, one of the first things I do is ask participants to look at some of the newspapers and magazines I’ve brought in and decide what grabs their attention. Everyone has different likes and dislikes because we all have our own interests. Someone passionate about the environment is likely to home in on a story about pollution, whilst another loves eating out and is attracted by an article about a new restaurant opening up. There are always points of commonality – stories of triumph over disaster, cute animal tales (of course!) and well-crafted headlines that instantly demand attention – but, like editors and other audiences, individual preferences dictate what we choose to take in and how we’ll react.
PR is all about communicating (online, offline and personal) but communication is a two-way process. Tell people what they ought to do and risk them turning their backs. Get to know your potential customers – and them to know you – and a whole raft of opportunities emerge.
How do you do that? By looking at what they’re reading, what social media platforms they use, what they say, what they like watching and what they’re likely to want. Once you’ve got all that, decide how best to reach and engage them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and flexibility and continuing evaluation are key.
The referendum has changed our political and economic landscape. What’s done is done. Now is the time for all businesses to take stock, listen, look ahead and plan.