It seems that sometimes communicators get so enamored with a tactical solution: ie., blogs, brochures and events, that they forget what they are trying to accomplish and how the people targeted for a tactic might respond.
It is why I am such a fan of the four-part public relations planning process: Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation. If nothing else, it requires that one thinks through the ramifications of the program and that tactics do not drive the campaign. Instead, research, goals, publics, objectives, strategies, and finally tactics, are considered.
A good example how letting tactics drive a project can lead to disaster happened just this week.
Northwest Airlines is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection and has to lay off more than 1,000 of its employees. As many companies do, they have put together a 165-page book of information for these employees, including information about coping with job loss, options for job transfers within Northwest and relocation advice.
NEAS, a company specializing in Employee Assistance Programs, created the booklet for Northwest Airlines. However, only 60 of the books were handed out before the complaints started rolling in. Tucked inside that book was a page of tips titled, “101 Ways to Save Money.” The company cut the remaining lists out of the books.
Reading through some of the money-saving suggestions that were gleaned by reporters, I can imagine how coming up with this list would be a fun and creative exercise for some communication professional out there. But the problem is, whoever wrote it did not have the audience in mind or the goals of the program, which was to ease the transition for employees. Here are a few of the more onerous suggestion with my subtext of what an employee about to be laid off might be thinking:
- Giving homemade cards and gifts – Nice, take away my job and tell me I can get by on homemade gifts
- Asking doctors for prescription drug samples – Like I will be able to afford to go to the doctor without healthcare
- Borrowing a dress for “a big night out” – Humiliating, “Hey Mom, I was laid off and can’t afford my own clothes, so, you know that dress you have in the back of your closet…”
- Giving children hand-me-down toys and clothes – I won’t be able to afford a birthday gift of Christmas present for my child, need I say more?
- Buying jewelry at pawnshops – More like taking my jewelry to the pawnshop
- Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash – So, what, now I am a bum? And some choice words here about my employer that aren’t fit for family consumption
I suggest that you always keep your stakeholders firmly in mind when making decisions about the tactical and business strategies you use. For instance, don’t raise management pay when you are laying someone off, and don’t insult them with ridiculous and meaningless tactics.
As reported in Bloomburg:
“First they took our money. Then they took our contract,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said on its Web site. “Now the geniuses that run Northwest Airlines are insulting not only our intelligence, but our dignity as well.”
(Update: The MN Headhunter offers the NEAS' “101 Ways to Save Money” in its entirety, via the Holmes Report Blog. Most of the suggestions are benign, but read through the lens of a laid-off worker, none of them saound anything but patronizing.)