If you ask someone what he thinks communication(s) stands for, you will usually get something along the lines of “strong message, eloquent sender, good choice of channels, sharp targeting of the audience”. It isn’t wrong of course, but I’d argue if this is where it starts or even if it is complete. If you only focus on these four elements (sender-message-channel-receiver), you are missing the basics. You need data first and for that you need to listen first. And at the end, you need persuasion.
A good talk: all ears
We all learn how to speak, read and write as a child. Often in different languages. It is all about the production of messages. Far less effort goes into learning how to listen. Still, listening is very important for effective communications and the listening aspect of a conversation should not be underestimated.
To remain silent is a somewhat forgotten talent. Speaking is silver, silence is golden. You’d better think before you speak. You can simply learn to listen by keeping your mouth shut for a while. Forget yourself for a moment and project yourself into the other person’s situation, keeping an open mind. It’s asking a lot, but those who make the effort will reap the fruits and enjoy the sweet taste of effective communication.
My mum used to say: you have one mouth and two ears, use them accordingly. Not that we don’t listen in the business world. We use focus groups for instance. But that is an artificial world. Think about all the new possibilities that social media offer us. We can listen to what all these people say about our products, about our company, about trends, about anything really. And they talk to their friends. It is less artificial. It still needs to be filtered, but it is more genuine.
I’ve always been a fan of calculated risks. I don’t really like predictability for day-to-day things. I am not interested in watching an entire football game when I know who won. But that is in private life. When I want to invest money in something, I want to know what the best investments are. So I need data. Lots of data to see evidence. And I need help to analyse those data.
A good methodology with a proven track record is crucial. Someone needs to interpret those data though and cherrypick the relevant parts to come to a conclusion that’ll help me choose the right option. This is science, less of an art. It is about creating deep human insights. I only trust advisors who have sorted this all out. Experience is a must, so is access to data and a solid methodology for analysing these data.
The art of persuasion
After all the listening and data crunching, the art of persuasion comes into play. Communications is clearly not just a sender sending a message through a channel to a receiver and hoping it has a positive effect.
We need to understand, based on the listening and the data, how we can persuade the receiver best of the relevance of the sender and the quality of the message. The channel we choose needs to be the one preferred by the receiver so we can engage in a conversation, a dialogue.
If we get the receiver to a certain level of engagement, we know we’ve reached him and we can persuade him of values, thinking, buying, etc. We shouldn’t count in output but in outcomes. It is not about the number of people you’ve reached, it is about how you’ve reached them and whether you have been able to transform opinions, beliefs and behaviours. That’s why communications have evolved from simply sending messages to a dialogue, a conversation, so the recipient does respond and there is an interaction. It even becomes transactional.
This scares business people, especially those who are not into communications. Legal departments shiver when they hear about the use of social media. There are indeed many pitfalls, but there is not really an opt-out any longer for business in my view.
At the heart of all communications
Communications is a science as well as an art. Communication has become so complex it requires more than just a gut feeling or a moment of creativity. It requires solid research, based on smart listening. It still needs the craftsmanship of finding the right message delivered by a trustworthy source. And the choice of channels has definitely never been longer, so pick the best one to reach your targeted audience. The cherry on the cake is the transformation you’ve been able to achieve.
If you haven’t been able to change opinions, beliefs or behaviour, you haven’t been persuasive enough and you can question the efficiency or even relevance of your efforts to communicate. No one ever said it was easy. Nor should anyone believe it got any easier. I believe Public Relations has never been more at the heart of all communications.
Thought Leader Profile
Luc Missinne became managing director of Porter Novelli in Brussels after successfully selling his own company Ellips Communication to Omnicom in 1999. He currently oversees Porter Novelli’s offices in Brussels and Paris, directing a staff of 60. In addition, Luc is a senior partner and member of the Global Executive Committee of Porter Novelli and acts in close concert with the Central and Eastern European agencies in the network. As DAS Ambassador for Benelux, he also closely works with all 30 companies of the Omnicom family in the Benelux.
Luc is involved in many charity projects as a board member of UFB (United Fund Belgium) and an active board member of the BPRCA (Belgian Public Relations Communications Agencies, member of IPRA). A few private companies have chosen Luc to sit on their board. He served as spokesman for P&O Stena Line in Belux for more than 10 years and has managed and led major initiatives for 3M Europe, Duracell (P&G) and Boots Healthcare, among others. He has also developed numerous guidelines and training programs on how to handle internal and external communications effectively.
A guest lecturer at several universities and a graduate at Omnicom University (Harvard,2005-2006), Luc is Flemish, speaks fluent French and English and has a good knowledge of German and Spanish. Luc published his first book (Mensentaal) in 2009, which is also available in English (Plain Speaking, 2011).