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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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Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

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