Do you work for a company that is always running scared? If you're a typical reader of Ragan.com, the answer is probably a resounding yes. Sure there are a handful of exceptions, but most companies seemed frightened out of their wits.
This irrational fear of everything is at the heart of all bad communication, and it's why many Ragan readers are so miserable. You can't say anything clearly and with conviction if you're terrified that your words will come back to bite you.
This fear has always been at the heart of bad communication, but it's getting worse. It's getting so bad that companies now fear good news. Companies are actually refusing to cooperate with Ragan reporters on stories that are intended to praise their work.
Here is a recent conversation between one of my writers and the director of PR for a very large company based in the Midwest:
Reporter: We'd like to do a story praising the work of the writers on your communication staff.
PR Dir: Well, I don't know. What exactly do you mean?
Reporter: Uhhh..we really like the work you're doing with your employee publication, and we'd like to tell the world about it. Your communicators are really putting out some good stuff.
PR Director: I don't know about this. I am going to have to run this up the flagpole, and I'm not sure I'll get approval. Call me back tomorrow.
Reporter: Hi, it's me again. We're you able to get approval on that story.
PR Director: I'm still working on it. People are a bit concerned about what the story is going to say.
Reporter: The story is about the great job your communicators are doing with the employee publication. The redesign is terrific. The writing has improved. We love it!
PR Director: Hmmm...Can you give me some examples of the questions you would ask in the interview.
Reporter: OK...let me see. How did you get to be so good?
After three days of negotiations, the company agreed to an interview and the story ran.
Now, if it's this difficult getting approval for a story praising your organization, one can only imagine what it's like when the same organization faces a media relations crisis.
Why have things gotten so out of hand? Why are companies so openly paranoid?
The fear of being burned by the media has always been around, but in the age of social media the possibilities for a PR disaster have skyrocketed.
One need only consider the recent Rachael Ray controversy to understand the rampant fear running through today's corporate communications departments. A woman wears a scarf that resembles the headdress worn by Yasser Arafat and all hell breaks loose in the blogosphere.
Social media and the Web have robbed companies of control over the message. Today a CEO
can say something outrageous during a town hall meeting with employees, and tomorrow it could be on You Tube.
Is it any wonder that conversations between reporters and PR directors have come to resemble something from Alice in Wonderland?