Keep Hidden Meanings From Ruining Your PR Campaign

Do the elements of your public relations campaign have another meaning to your audience – one that you never intended for them to have?

If you’re not careful, varying interpretations of your PR materials can ruin your campaign before you even realize what is happening. These less than obvious, or “hidden,” interpretations of your hard work by your intended customers can quickly spell failure for you and your client.

Hidden Messages CommunicationsConsider the following example. . .

Several years ago, I was present at the PowerPoint presentation of a manager trying to encourage his employees to become more productive. The manager chose the metaphor of a well-oiled machine to describe how he wanted his department to run. Every PowerPoint slide featured a picture of a different gear or machine part.

However, instead of receiving the manager’s intended message, his employees received a very different message — that the company was a very impersonal place where individuals were viewed as being disposable (like machine parts). That manager’s presentation fell far short of achieving its desired goal.

Of course, that manager was far from alone in botching up his message. Celebrities, political figures, and even PR professionals make similar communication mistakes all the time. You can probably even think of several other examples of botched PR (or you’ve read about similar mistakes in our PR Goofs section of this site).

It’s really easy to see how such misunderstandings can happen. What is obvious to one person is not nearly so obvious to another. When you throw cultural differences into the mix, it’s a minor miracle that we are able to communicate at all.

You can keep hidden messages from ruining your communications. Consider the following points before you finalize your campaign:

  • Folk sayings and other clichés have different meanings in different cultures.
  • Many words have more than one meaning or connotation.
  • Visual imagery can also have multiple meanings.
  • Different generations may view the same PR materials very differently.
  • There’s a fine line between being funny and being offensive.
  • Even colors can have varying meanings, depending on the culture.

Consider your target market very carefully. Look at your presentation from several different perspectives before your release it. If you can’t examine your marketing materials objectively, then you may need to bring in representatives from your target market to review the materials before you release them.

Share your own methods for keeping your PR message clear in the comments.

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