Communication Strategies: DJ Durrant is not a reality
By Jeremy Durrant, Chief UK Media Strategist
It appeared at the conclusion of what was an otherwise unremarkable journey to work. Right there in front me – sitting quietly outside my office building – was a glimpse of a parallel universe.
A white van was a window to a world where things could have gone differently; if I had made other choices that is, where my destiny may have taken me. Plastered across the vehicle’s side panels it read “jeremydurrant.com” and underneath were the words “discos, DJs, and photo booths”.
I stopped, stared, and of course took a photo for later social media posterity, but also wondered briefly what life would be like as a travelling disco DJ for hire. How different was that Jeremy Durrant’s life to my own. I realised then that it was business communication that I was good at and that I would have been an awful DJ.
DJ Durrant is not a reality
Now I have not done any market research on this, but I imagine the demand for celebrations supported by soundtracks from the likes of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Marc Cohn, Crowded House, and Def Leppard may be somewhat limited. Therefore, my success as a floor-filling music master may have been short-lived if not completely non-existent. However, it was nice to imagine an alternative route, even fleetingly at the end of an uneventful work commute.
But why do I share this sliding door anecdote? Because so much of my actual professional reality as a communications adviser is just that. Clients want strategies to their communications issues but advice on a plan never comes with a cast iron guarantee of success. For every scenario there is an alternative set of circumstances which could come to pass without the right planning. For every PR practitioner there is a disco DJ in the wings.
I’m sure my van-driving, party-starting namesake can beatmatch with the best of them, but you wouldn’t necessarily want him planning your comms strategy. Conversely, my skills and experience in this reality are far better-suited to guiding media relations than those of my disc-spinning alter ego.
Comms strategy expertise
So, I thought I would share some tips from my communications experience on how you can provide sound advice and mitigate the chances of things heading into an alternative reality:
1. Advisers should give advice
Too often in responding to queries on communication, clients are given broad choices and left to make up their minds up for themselves. This is not really how it should work. Advisers are hired to provide an answer. That solution should be reasoned, rational and defensible with hindsight. It should be based on experience and insight and consider all pitfalls and pathways. But ultimately it should give the client a clear recommendation. Anything less is not adding value and undermines the role of an external perspective.
2. Listen more; speak less
Many advisers think they are paid by the word and therefore overly dominate a discussion as a way of demonstrating value. A client does not want to be brow-beaten into submission and you should carefully listen to an issue before giving advice. Hear it from all angles, consider all perspectives and then deliver a plan which is realistic rather than what someone wants to hear as that only leads to disappointment.
3. Information is great; insight is better
Information is a fundamental bedrock for any advice. Knowing the regulation or the political process can be valuable, but it is not why you are there as research can find those answers. Adding insight and experience on top of information is where real value lies. Whether that is based on previous similar situations, or data gleaned from analytic sources, this is where advice becomes meaningfully strategic.
4. Doing or saying nothing rarely works
Problems do not often go away or take care of themselves. Inertia often means an issue gets worse rather than better. Plan ahead and prepare for the worst is always the best mindset. Even better, why wait until a potential crisis is looming or has occurred? Use more normal times to create a proper crisis plan and cascade should things go awry.
5. Think inside-out
Too often internal audiences are ignored or become an after-thought in any external communications plan. Colleagues are a powerful constituent who need to be at centre of any advice being given. They can be critical advocates if used well or just plain critics if not. Assume everything will be leaked.
6. Do not underestimate the power of an outside voice
Quite often it takes someone detached from an organisation to deliver a point of view to a leadership team which may not have landed with the same resonance if given by an individual sitting within a company. Additionally, the role of bad cop is one often assumed by an adviser who has tell a truth to an executive which might be considered career-limiting if left to a communications colleague.