Learning to listen can get you some great feedback
Musicians know how to listen. They understand that the music within and around them provides the inspiration they need to express themselves. They also understand the value of feedback.
Why listening is critical to public relations success
Any rock n’ roll guitar player can tell you how to get good feedback. Just turn up the volume, point the guitar at your amp, and let it wail. It’s not always pleasant to hear, especially when it happens by accident. But in the hands of a master like Jimi Hendrix, feedback can unlock a whole new world of music.
Feedback is also an important key to public relations. Too often, PR campaigns focus on “communicating to” someone. We decide what we want to say and then look for a vehicle to help us communicate it to a certain audience. The problem is, when we forget that good communication also involves listening, it’s like a pilot flying on instruments. We are really communicating blindly.
How is your organization communicating — “to” its stakeholders or “with” them?
The truth is that most organizations behave reactively, communicating “to” someone in response to an opportunity or threat. Glen Broom, co-author of Effective Public Relations, compares it to what a squid does when it senses danger. It squirts ink.
“Our competitor is in today’s paper again!” shouts the CEO. “Why aren’t we?” he demands. Just because your competitor got some media attention doesn’t automatically mean you need some too. You might be better off asking some important questions, like “What is the problem?” and “How can we solve it?” Squirting ink is not always the answer. Instead, try developing some good corporate listening skills first. Focus on getting an inkling instead of getting ink.
By seeking feedback, you may learn that the public is skeptical about your company. Maybe they don’t trust the CEO. Maybe the employees are worried about the rising cost of their health plan. Maybe the patients at your hospital don’t believe that their care is your primary mission. If the communities you serve think you do not have their interests at heart, maybe it’s time to ask if you are communicating the right messages.
Feedback from within an organization
If the problem involves employees who feel insecure about their jobs or confused about the future of the company, think about how you can communicate better internally:
- Have more frequent staff meetings and let the staff ask questions.
- Even if the door is virtual, make sure they know your door is always open.
- Conduct employee surveys.
- Start an employee newsletter.
The value of external communications feedback
Does the problem involve losing customers or investors? Does your company have a damaged reputation? Are you a well-kept secret? Is your corporate identity clear and consistent? Try doing some research:
- Focus groups provide great feedback even if you don’t always like what you hear.
- Patient satisfaction surveys uncover opportunities and can tell you if you need to work harder.
- Meetings with key opinion leaders can provide valuable insight.
- Talk to government and regulatory agencies that oversee your industry.
- Find out what reporters think about you compared to your competitors.
Starting with some basic research is fundamental to identifying threats and opportunities, and designing communication strategies to address them. Communication is a two way process. Asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers will help you make important strategic decisions — in the short term and in the long term. The information you gather will tell you if the messages you send are received or ignored, and why. It will tell you if the vehicles you use to communicate to your target audiences are effective or not. It will help you determine the real problem and figure out how to fix it.
Why it’s important to start 2024 off with a communications audit
The new year is a great time to examine how you are communicating. You can start by getting all the feedback you can get. Remember that you have a valuable story to tell, and start thinking about the best way to tell it. A blend of strategically derived PR tactics such as community relations, internal communications, earned media, digital communications and thought leadership may be just the right recipe to get you back on track.
It’s easy to get stressed out by day to day worries and not take the time to think strategically. Your business goals should guide your communication tactics, not the other way around. You owe it to yourself to take some time as you begin 2024 to think about how your organization communicates. What story do you want your brand to tell? Who needs to hear it? How can you reach them?
Great musicians pay attention to what the musicians around them are saying musically. It’s the same with good communicators. We all have communication breakdowns. The trick is to take a deep breath and listen.
If you need help refining your communications strategy to focus on listening and then strategically responding, contact us to discuss whether working with a public relations agency might be the right fit.