Learning from clients

November 26, 2008

Last week I spent a few days meeting with clients in the LA area. Again, I feel so fortunate to be able to work with top level communicators of major agencies and organizations. Once in awhile I feel like I contribute a little to their thinking about their communication challenges, but mostly I just learn so much from them. I see a big part of my job in my work with PIER and on this blog to share these learnings so they can be of benefit to all.

I am seeing a steadily growing awareness of the instant news world and the impact of social media on the work that public affairs and media management professionals have to do. But I am also seeing a continuing and perhaps growing gap between the communicators who are trying to adapt their policies and plans to meet the demands for instant and direct communication and their bosses who tend more to operate in the old world of mainstream media domination, slow news cycles, and little to no interaction with key audiences.

One comment from a client was telling–“I’m having a problem with how fast we are able to get info out.” Despite appropriate approvals for distribution, the very quick distribution of vital information was catching some in the organization by surprise. And some of these people don’t like to be surprised.

It is critically important–and something I have come to emphasize a lot in my presentations recently–is that communicators who do “get it” need to continuously work with their superiors to help them understand the new instant news and social media realities. The organization’s leaders will make the ultimate and most important decisions about communication and they can only make informed decisions if they are, well, informed. Don’t expect them to read this or sit in on teleseminars about the changing world of information–that is up to you.

Secondly, while you need to keep the approval process as simple and streamlined as possible, you also need to be aware of the need in some cases to stage information so that you don’t catch important internal audiences by surprise. At least if you can avoid it. Even a ten minute heads up may be much appreciate and help them understand in advance what you are doing. It may even give them a chance–if there is sufficient reason–to yell hold the press!

Another observation. I’ve had some interesting discussions with communicators about the fact that in this day “you are the channel.” It is something I talked about at length in Now Is Too Late, but in this post-media world, audiences go where they will for information and often choose to go direct to the sources of information rather than through intermediary channels such as the media. That means your website plus the push communication you do becomes the direct channel to those who are often the most interested and most impacted by what is going on. That is a tremendous advantage. Tell your story directly. Don’t put it in the hands of those whose primary agenda is to build an audience–often at your expense. You are the channel. It is great to see progress in thinking at some very high levels.

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One Response to “Learning from clients”


  1. […] that guide effective crisis and emergency communications. Quite simply, it speaks to what I and others in the crisis space are already […]


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