A Failure to Communicate? “Cool Hand Luke” and Public Relations

“What we have here is a failure to communicate” says the warden.  Have you ever heard your client say this? If you are in the communications/marketing field or a business consultant, this is the kiss of death. This movie has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and while watching it again on Netflix the other night, hearing this line started me thinking about writing a blog about it.

As public relations consultants, Ann Marie and my jobs are to portray our clients and their companies in the best possible light, generate excitement about their products and services, and minimize the damage of any negative news through reputation management.  But, just like any human interaction, simple misunderstandings or lack of clarity can have a tremendous impact on the consultant/client relationship, escalating into more serious consequences in the future.  Consultants need to be 100% certain that they are conveying the clients’ point of view correctly.  So we strive for clear communications with both clients and the general public.  So if you are a consultant, here are three things that we recommend you do before moving forward with a public announcement or statement:

  1. Trust but verify – Just because a client says something is true doesn’t always make it so!  You need to trust that you clients are giving you correct information but you also perform due diligence and check it out for yourself.
  2. Repeat for understanding – Echo back what you heard to your client to make certain that you are on the same page.  It helps to take notes in bullet point form.
  3. Gain final approval - Before publishing anything , always wait for the client to approve the draft before distributing it.  This helps obtain “buy-in” from the client and prevents a potentially damaging retraction later.

If you follow these three steps whenever communicating with your client, you prevent a “failure to communicate” and much worse, spending the “night in the box” by losing a valuable client!

2 comments
Ed Mayuga
Ed Mayuga

Hi Russ - Yes, I agree that picking up the phone is probably the best, and easiest way to clear up any misunderstandings with a client. E-mail can be too impersonal and some clients have trouble expressing themselves through writing, causing even more misunderstanding. Plus, any statements via e-mail are very difficult to retract once they are out in the public domain. Thanks for your comment!

Russ Henneberry
Russ Henneberry

Great stuff Ed. I often find that if there is a misunderstanding it is a good idea to pick up the phone and call the client. Email can often complicate a misunderstanding. What is your experience?