Thursday, September 17, 2009

What You Say Matters!

It's often said of people who've worked in advertising for long enough that after a while you tend to believe your own advertising. As my favourite littigator often tells me,"What is it about you PR people, don't you do anything real?"

I can sympathise with these sentiments. I've spent the better part of my life in the marketing communications industry - 8-years of work experience, many years of family members in the industry and now, to make matters worse, I've started something with a girl in the ad sales business. All I can say is that it's hard to know what's grounded in the business because you're constantly dealing with trying to invenet new realities for other people and if you do enough of something it becomes real to you. In a way, the industry is about inventing value for yourself. You know a lawyers value because you really need him or her in court. You know an accountants value because the books need to be done. But how do you know that you know the value of the marketing communications professional? We as an industry are good for the image but how do you know we're enhancing your image (by the end of month report we write you.)

One of the ways in which we invent value for ourselves, is by telling you that, it's not about what you say but how you say it. We can say it right for you and that can make things go so much more smoothly for you. Which to a certain extent is true. I like to think of a Mad Magazine sketch, where daughter comes home and says, "I'm pregnant." Everyone screams. However in the next scene she says, "You guys will be the envy of your friends - everyone will say you're SO YOUNG to be grandparents." Everyone smiles.

All this is true when things are going well. Nobody likes bad news and the last thing the product development people who have spent the last year or so in R&D want to hear is they're product sucks. We, the marketing communications people have developed a somewhat dangerous understanding with the clients that we can somehow, through some magic find a way to make your product or service shine and sales soar.

It's taken a military man, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen to cut through the myth when he criticised a comunique on the "war on terror." The Good Admiral pointed out that, "Too much energy is spent on communicating our actions and not enough on considering what our actions communicate." The admiral is right. Communications is a powerful tool and communicating correctly makes allot of difference to getting things done. However, you cannot communicate lousy things into good things.

Let's apply Admiral Mullen's logic to the Middle East conflicts. The politcians of the Obama administration want to "communicate better" with the Muslim world after so many years of "miscommunication" by the Bush Administration. On paper this is fine rethoric and a welcome change. In reality this is pointless. You cannot communicate a bombing that killed a few civilians into a happy event. You have to look at the bombing itself and act from there.

Likewise with marketing communications. Advertising as both David Ogilvy and Bill Burnbach pointed out, "Cannot invenet a prodcut advantage." In fact advertising can ruin a bad product faster because more people will know about it.

So, what do we, as industry professionals need to do? I think GE's former CEO, Jack Welsh said it best - discover "Candour" when we deal with our clients. We should fight to be part of the product development process rather than just communicators of the prodcut itself.

What you say does matter! You cannot create product advantages that don't exist through communications. Marketing communications professsionals will never know the client's business as well as the client and one cannot expect an outsider to know the brand as well as the brand owner.

However, one needs to be able to look at clients and tell them honestly that they're approach or their product will have problems in the market. Clients don't pay for fancy drawings and ideas. They pay solutions to problems and if one finds that there is a problem in product or service, one should not be afraid to say so. A client that cannot accept this, is not a client worth handling.

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