Once upon a time, when I was a youngster apprenticing at a PR agency here in Winnipeg, I learned that sometimes you had to tell your clients that they’re wrong. Back then, we were working for a large company that was constantly receiving complaints about poor service. It was bad for business and they were leaking a steady stream of customers to their rivals.
So they set up a customer service line, then they undertrained and understaffed it. Their next step was to come to us to promote their new customer service line, using public relations to show that they listen to their customers and cared about what they said. My boss told them he thought that was a bad idea. He asked them if they’d ever called their own custoemr service line. They laughed. SoÂ during a client meeting he called the line to prove his point. It rang more than 20 times before anyone picked up. The client was red in the face, part embarrassed and part angry.
You can’t use public relations tactics to tell someone it’s sunny outside during a rainstorm. PR doesn’t work that way. You have to be credible and a big part of credibility means being honest. And before you start talking to the outside public (customers), you need to talk to your inside public: your employees. They are every company’s best potential public relations tool, but if they are being fed sunshine on a rainy day their morale will suffer and they’ll become as effective as a dull chisel… and when they finally pick the phone on the 21st ring, you won’t want them talking to your customers.
Today, my colleagues and I counsel our clients to provide a steady stream of credible corporate communications to employees. Use newsletters, use an Intranet, start a blog,Â speak to small groups, have a party… do something, but make sure you’re talking to your people and they know why they should care aboutÂ coming to work.