Don’t Tell Them What You Think Before You Know What THEY Think!

My husband likes to say: “Opinions are like noses, everybody has one.” There’s truth in that, of course. We do all have opinions and even if they’re not strongly held–or strongly expressed–they impact the way we interact with those around us, including individuals and organizations.

For businesses and business professionals attempting to shape those opinions (often called “public relations” or PR), there can be a tendency to start the process by sending out “key messages,” from the standpoint that “we need to get the word out!”

To that, I like to say: “Hold your horses!” There’s danger in being too quick to act, depending on the magnitude of the issue and the audience of interest. Here’s an example: Suppose I’m a leader in a health care organization and I’ve been seeing a lot on the news about consumer concern over rising health care costs. I might naturally think: “I’d better contact my PR department and have them implement a campaign to address these concerns.”

Seems logical. But, what if the consumers in that health care leader’s market aren’t really that concerned about health care costs in their market? What if they are more concerned about other issues? If that’s the case, and that organization (because they didn’t take the time to find out what the public sentiment actually was) goes ahead with their campaign they may, inadvertently, raise an issue that never even existed. That can be a problem.

Certainly, communicators can’t conduct extensive research for every communication effort–and not all of these efforts require it. However, if the communication effort represents significant potential risk to the organization in terms of public perception and response, it pays to get the lay of the land before moving forward.

After all, if you don’t know what your audience currently thinks or believes, how do you know where (or to what extent) you need to exert your communication muscle?


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