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Companies cannot not communicate

One cannot not communicate. Communications theorist Paul Watzlawick deemed this as one of five axioms about communication between two individuals. He thought that since every behavior is a type of communication, and because behavior does not have an opposite, (anti-behavior? No.) it is not possible not to communicate. In other words, even when we don’t say anything, we’re still communicating. This holds true for companies, as well as for individuals.

Companies are always communicating, even if they’re not the ones saying the message. Their clients, customers and other audiences are constantly talking either about them or on their behalf. So how do you make sure, as a company, you put your best foot forward so that your audiences are saying (at best) positive and (at worst) neutral things about you?

The answer lies in something so basic, many PR pros neglect to discuss it with their clients. You see, the dirty little secret of PR, as mentioned time and again, is the smoke and mirror game. There are many PR agencies whose only goal is to get their client press. It doesn’t matter if it’s the New York Times or the Spokane Spokesman-Review, all that matters for the shady PR firm is getting the hit. And that’s where it ends. There’s no plan, just a hit. And after a while, the client doesn’t see any return. Things need to change in order for the PR field to grow.

For example, if a client comes to me and asks, “How/When will I get into the Wall Street Journal,” my answer is usually, “It depends. Not on me, but on you. How do your employees feel about your company?”

Internal communications is the best barometer of a company’s perception. If the employees hate working there, hate their job, hate everything associated with the organization, odds are, the organization’s clients and customers are also not very happy. And they all talk. To each other!

With instant access to sites like Twitter and Facebook, not to mention the 110-million+ blogs out there, everyone is now a reporter and has the ability to act as either an advocate or assailant. Knowing this can help organizations prepare for the worst, while develop strategic communication plans that deliver corporate messages to key audiences.

As PR practitioners, our role is to put together the strategy to help our clients build positive perception through various tactics. When we focus on one aspect, one tactic, we ignore the bigger issues. We need to constantly reinforce to our clients the idea that someone, somewhere is talking about their company and that the company should always be communicating to their constituencies – most importantly, their employees.

While there are times when a company is in crisis that they must go dark (for legal reasons, for example), that is still viewed as communicating. Corporations must have a strategic plan, a playbook of some sort, to help navigate (and communicate) through the rough waters of an inquisitive staff, an investigative media or an insolent shareholder.

Communicating is an art; just ask any President, Senator or Congressman, any athlete or any actor. Or any CEO of a Fortune 1000 company for that matter. The strong companies realized a long time ago that they are always communicating. In today’s technopoly-focused world, now is the time for all companies to adopt this philosophy and the PR world needs to be on board to help.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


3 thoughts on “Companies cannot not communicate

  1. I'm not being funny, genuinely I'm not. But paragraph one – I just read it three times and I'm stuck. People can't communicate? So if I pinch you that's not communicating? It has no opposite (to pinch myself?). Genuinely – I'll carry on and try to keep up some more.Thanks.

    Posted by jDubbyah | September 11, 2009, 10:02 pm
  2. @jDubbyah, It's not that people can't communicate, it's the idea that people are ALWAYS communicating. Even when you're not speaking, you're communicating. Pinching me IS communicating (depending on context of course. You could pinch me out of anger or love towards me, etc). I hope that's a bit clearer.

    Posted by Josh Sternberg | September 11, 2009, 10:12 pm
  3. Thank you, Josh that does make sense. I enjoyed your post very much.Best, Jonathan.

    Posted by jDubbyah | September 12, 2009, 7:37 am

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