ADVICE: Why Face-to-Face Communication Is Best

by Scott Baradell | Public Relations

ADVICE: Why Face-to-Face Communication Is Best

facetofaceEmotional detachment makes people cruel. It’s easy to turn people into caricatures when you don’t really know or care about them.

Take Britney Spears. She’s been lampooned by the tabloids, chased down by the paparazzi, and had fingers wagged at her by every so-called child care expert who could find their way in front of a television camera. To the media, it’s a game — one that earns them subscribers, ratings, and money.

But Spears is a real person. And after she gave an honest, emotional interview stating her case to Matt Lauer a couple of years ago, viewers voted 80-20 in her support — and against the media — in an MSNBC poll. Many believe it was the first step to her current comeback.

It’s About Empathy

Generating empathy is the reason I recommend face-to-face communication first to my clients. Before conference calls, before e-mail, before press releases, before internal memos, before Skype, before Twitter, before blogging, before VNRs — if face-to-face is possible, it’s nearly always the best option.

Here’s an example from the world of internal communication:

When a company is announcing a layoff and asks me to develop a plan to communicate it, the first question I always ask is, “Will the CEO do it in person?”

If the company is large with multiple locations, I want the CEO to make the announcement at headquarters and the top officials in the field to break the news at those offices simultaneously. I want those officials to stand up and explain the reasons for the layoff, and to answer every last question from the people in the room. I want those officials to show that they care, and I want the people in the audience to see that there is someone at the front of the room willing to stand there and take the heat.

In my years as a corporate communications executive, I’ve been fortunate to work with two CEOs, Robert Decherd at Belo Corp. and Jack Frazee at PageNet, who believed in and practiced the art of face-to-face communication. But far too many executives try it avoid it — sometimes at all costs.

Memos, press releases and e-mails are good for providing supporting information. Used alone, however, they can’t bridge the gap between a corporation’s executives and its rank-and-file. If a company only communicates through press releases, employees will start to view its executives as the public views celebrities — with distance, detachment and, ultimately, ridicule.

The same is true for your communications with investors, the media and other audiences. So don’t be lazy; manage by talking around.

[This post is a Media Orchard classic.]

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2 thoughts on “ADVICE: Why Face-to-Face Communication Is Best

  1. Ronnie Bray

    “Emotional detachment makes people cruel. It’s easy to turn people into caricatures when you don’t really know or care about them.”

    FIRST you dehumanise, cartoonise, frivolise, misrepresent, distort, and when that becomes accepted, then you are free to do what you want to the person, group, family, nation, etc, because when the PR works so well in setting up a common-enemy that is not ‘like us,’ then the battle is won.

    That worked for Hitler, as his insane but politically essential progroms took care of the opposition, dead weight, untermenschen, and those he just didn’t like.

    Shock jocks are in the same business as Hitler, and so are the Tea-Baggers.

    Remember, FIRST, the hate campaign to subject your victims to universal humiliation, distortion to remove any vestiges of sympathy or fellow feeling for them, then the separation that proves that not only are they’re ‘not like of us,’ and to project our shortcomings onto them, that makes them blameworthy, after which you can set about them with hatchets, real or otherwise, and the people whose lives you are ‘cleansing’ from the ‘vermin’ will applaud you.

    Once you can get peoples’ minds reacting to this kind of rush, you can go out on a limbaugh as far as you like, and the masses will call you a hero.

    This present day is the Great Day of the Character assassin. Note that Obama is depicted before he does anything for being too weak to do anything, but now after 12 months he is slammed for being harder on terrorists than Bush was, and for killing ‘too many terrorists.’

    Your subject is needful, for whether in business, on the sports-field, arena, even in the US politics, what you or others ‘presents’ someone as being, takes precedence over actuality regarding the character, motives, policies, worth, and in which direction a person future might proceed.

    PR must be honest at all levels, or else it holds equal place with melamine-laced-baby formula, lead paint used on children’s’ toys, Hitler’s assaults on Jews, and has no place in an ethical organisation regardless of the product.

    If your client’s products are not as good as their biggest competitors, then don’t run an campaign saying they are better, either fess up – “Not as good, but good enough, and cheaper!’ or else advise them to make their own product better.

    If they will not go with either of these, then they need someone that is happy to lie, cheat, and play Shot-gun-Roulette with the lives of their customers.

    Right is might.