Sunday, January 6, 2013

Your Career and You: “I Broke a Teacup…or Perceptions and PR"

As the saying goes, “Perception is reality.” 

What you believe you have experienced is, to you, fact or truth.

Well…I dropped a teacup today while setting the table for lunch.

In the realm of teacups (in this case, a Chinese teacup…basic, inexpensive), this one was way down on the list. It has been with us for a bazillion years, travelled to the Philippines with us and all over the U.S. as we moved around in my career. But (at least in my fuzzy brain) it was just a teacup.

Not according to the other side of the household, who immediately set out on an hour-long dissertation on the meaning behind the dropping of the teacup.

As she perceived the incident…this was yet one more sign of encroaching “old age.” Motor skills are going to hell in a handbasket.

Doesn’t matter that I’ve been dropping stuff since the beginning of time…a 50-pound roll of paper on my right foot (broke a toe in that exercise) and a computer hard drive (old-style, heavy hard drive) on my left foot (ditto on the result)…just for starters.

Nope…it’s “old age.”

And that started me thinking about perceptions…how others process events or actions that we, ourselves, also experience, but in a different way.

This, as I tell my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, is what makes the public relations profession so interesting, challenging…and frustrating.

Things happen. Products break. Blood donors get hematomas. An employee has a really bad day and snaps at a customer.

If you’ve been around for a few (or more) years, you know that these events are inevitable. As a salesman once astutely told my wife as she was zeroing in on some minuscule defects in a relatively inexpensive lamp, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

Your challenge as the public relations leader is to ensure that mechanisms are in place to respond quickly and efficiently…and to ensure that everyone involved, both internally and externally, understands what has been done.

Customers don’t leave you because your product was faulty…we all know products break on occasion.

They leave because their perception is…if you’ve done nothing to address the situation…that you don’t care. Your company doesn’t care, so why should they care? They can just go somewhere else.

Your job as the public relations leader is to help everyone in your organization understand that it doesn’t matter that products will break once in a while.

What matters is that the customer doesn’t see it that way. He perceives it as a sign of encroaching product inferiority…“old age.”

You have to take action to change that perception and to help the customer understand the reality…that you and you company are proud of your products or services and that you stand proudly behind each and every one.

That’s your reality.

 (Oh...and to close the story...she finally agreed that I'm basically clumsy!)

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion…”
Robert Burns, “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church” [1786]


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