11 September 2015

The challenge of pushing your story through the filter of human interpretation

Who wouldn’t remember the little children’s game all of us have played, where one person told a little story to the other, who in turn had to repeat it to another person. It was great fun to find out how the story – when it had reached a fourth or fifth person – had a completely different focus or meaning. This childhood memory came to mind when I reviewed this morning’s headlines in a handful of European media outlets.
It’s always quite revealing to read the media headlines after a major announcement. They tell you much more than you would think. Take for example the morning press review following Jean-Claude Junker’s State of the Union speech of 9 September. With headlines ranging from “Greece cannot be kept in the euro at all cost” (Telegraph), over “This is no time to be afraid of refugees, but to act” (Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland), “We need a Transatlantic Partnership for trade and investment (Focus, Bulgaria) to “Junker’s silent dream of a new Europe” (Spiegel Online). And what to think of “There is a reason why the number of O’Neills and Murphy’s in the US exceeds those in Ireland” (Irish Examiner). They all heard the same speech, but selected to highlight different aspects from a national political perspective. Words get a different sense when they travel.
The point I want to make here is that people – whether consciously or not – filter what they hear or read and put their own “what does this mean for me” angle to reproducing it. As communications professionals, providing strategic advice to our clients about how to bring their message across, we must at all times be mindful of that. Companies with global exposure must be sensitive to linguistic, cultural, political and socio-economic differences throughout their geographies. When their story reaches every corner of the world, they don’t want it to be scrambled by human selectivity or interpretation. That’s where the support of a comprehensive advisory network with feet on the ground makes a difference in ensuring that the one or two core messages are elevated and communicated effectively, even if they are repurposed to fit local market preferences or specificities.
Message crafting becomes more complex and requires a new set of skills in the converging public affairs and corporate communication environment. Consultancies will need to think differently about how to effectively leverage the power of their network in supporting their clients’ reputation building efforts. Messages today must form the basis of a coherent, compelling narrative that cumulatively tells an organisation’s story and resonates with target stakeholders in fundamentally different constituencies. For messages to be effective in today’s multi-channel, multi-stakeholder environment, they must move an organisation’s story beyond traditional one-size-fits-all sound bites while ensuring the right message comes across in any language or culture. The point is to understand how different people in different environments understand things and to compose the messages accordingly to be effective.

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