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Barriers to Communication: 5 Reasons PR Campaigns Fail

Five Reasons PR Campaigns Fail

Didn’t get the results you wanted?  Try turning up the volume and frequency as an easy fix.  Say it louder and more often – they’ll get the message. Or will they?

In 1947, two researchers identified five “psychological barriers” to why some information campaigns fail.  They went to lengths to point out that “increasing the flow of information” [alone] would not be enough to overcome these barriers.

Here are the barriers:

1) The “chronic know nothings.” No matter what you do, regardless of importance or quality of content, these folks are simply disinterested. As field of marketing and communications gets ever more crowded, we can anticipate growing sense of apathy.

2) Low awareness. People are disinterested in information they know little about – it’s hard to gain that initial interest.  In a twist like Newton’s Law, objects in motion tend to stay in motion, while an object at rest will remain so unless an unbalanced force acts upon it. It takes energy to overcome inertia – and energy to overcome a lack of awareness.

3) Preconceived notions. People tend to seek out information congenial to their preconceived notions. In fact, everything about the web feeds this idea.  It is explicitly designed to feed users information in which they are most likely to be interested. That’s the essence of the message in Erik Qualman’s Social Media Revolution video – we don’t find the news, the news finds us.

4) Perception varies. Ask 10 PR pros for a definition of PR and you’ll easily find 10 different answers. We do not all look at the world through the same lenses. A message that resonates with one audience, might repel another. Think about it in the context of humor in e-mail communication, which absent expression, tone and gesture, can sometimes come off as abrasive. The bar has been raised here too, now that we communicate often in 140 characters or less.

5) Some people just plain old disagree. They heard what you said; they understand it:  they simply do not agree. In any of these cases, adjusting the “flow of information” as the researchers put it, probably isn’t enough to change the course of the campaign.

* * *

More or louder communication probably isn’t effective in the face of these barriers.  It’s a sign it’s time to re-think the strategy.   This post adapted from a graduate paper I submitted on October 16, 2000.

Adopted from:   Hyman, H. & Sheatsley, P. (1947) Some Reasons Why Information Campaigns Fail Public Opinion Quarterly 11

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2 Responses

  1. Mary Conley Eggert

    Right on, Frank! The only thing I would change is the title. The factors you've listed contribute to the success/failure of much more than PR Campaigns. You could substitute "businesses," "relationships," "government programs," etc.

    I also agree with your conclusion. It's not enough to adjust the flow of info. We need to tailor the message to the ways in which different influencers and decision makers will receive the info and act upon it.

    LeadershipIQ has a great seminar on this topic related to Killer Presentations. In brief, any killer communication needs to deliver the same message in different forms to ensure the communicator connects with four different personality types/learner styles… The basic recipe is to: (1) state the big picture value, (2) back it up with facts/ROI (3)outline the process/methodology and (4) end with the feel good impact for the high touch types. By doing this, your message will engage the visionary leader (CEO), the analytical type (CFO), the implementors (COO) and most importantly, the sales/evangelists (CMO/VP of Sales).

    Thanks for keeping us on our toes. I am always energized by your helpful insights, and not at all surprised you got a 4.5/5.0… it's pretty cool that the same concepts are still extremely relevant!

  2. Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    Thanks for the comment and compliment Mary, I like the LeadershipIQ philosophy. It pretty much seems like the way it goes in reality (when it goes well)! 4.5 wasn't bad in her class… a self-described, "dictator." I'll never forget her!

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