‘Smart’ vs. ‘Stupid’

Posted on March 7, 2012 by 2 Comments

As a communications professional, I find that the times you give a client really “smart” counsel (which should be ALL the time) and they internalize it and use it to enact change for impact can be among the most rewarding moments of your day. And conversely, when you see something that makes you cringe as a comms counselor, the inclination can be to question the old adage of “Any PR is good PR” – but less true words have hardly been spoken.

 I firmly believe smart communication is a transformative tool for organizations and that getting it RIGHT is more important than ever. Here is where an old adage is entirely true: “Actions speak louder than words.” This leads to a discussion I am looking forward to participating in this weekend at SXSWi, which is sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF) called More Smart, Less Stupid: PR for Better Business.

 Too often, the response that something was a PR mistake oversimplifies the reality of the situation. A lack of a strategic comms counselors within the organization may be the real culprit; a business strategy that fails to engage key constituents ahead of time for input, or a lack of understanding of how brands live, tenuously at times, in the hands of your customers and not within marketing departments can both be the reasons communications come off as less than smart or “stupid,” per the title chosen by CPRF. And smart is a matter of often employing a communicator who is willing to hold the mirror up to the leadership of an organization and ask the tough questions, such as, “Why?” “Why are we doing this?” “Is this how we want to be recognized and perceived?”

The panel discussion will be in the Interactive Startup Village at SXSWi, and I can’t wait to hear the questions and input from those attendees on this topic. The entrepreneurial spirit of a startup can at times be the most active to embrace communications as part of its overall brand strategy — or, unfortunately, at times it can become an afterthought once crisis hits.

Until my boots hit the ground in Austin, though, I’m interested to hear (in comments below or on Twitter) what is either the “smartest” or (if you dare share!) “stupidest” communications advice you’ve ever received or heard?


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Supriya Venkat on March 7, 2012

One of my clients once said to me “well, you’re right but…let’s not let FACTs get in the way of us telling the story!” With everybody -from the most to the least informed–now empowered to tell their own stories and manufacture/spin facts, there has never been a stronger business reason why EVERYONE-vendors, media, communication pros, readers– must ask WHY…of everything. Why helps prioritize. Why helps rationalize. Why is the begining of all discovery! Why even helps you learn something from “stupid” (why should we never, ever do THAT again!):-). WHY is a beautiful word!

Petri Darby on March 8, 2012

So true. Unfortunately, many “PR” folks do not receive the requisite business education and/or training to become true strategic counselors, instead resting on what the message should be, instead of what the company needs to do. I addressed this subject in a Houston Business Journal article I penned a few years back. Here is an excerpt and a link to the full piece:
“Too often, company leaders say, “This is a public relations problem.” Most of the time, that is just not the case. If someone sues the company, it’s a legal issue. If someone is hurt or killed on the job, it’s a safety issue. If someone steals from the company, it’s an internal controls problem.
Very few problems begin as a PR problem, and very few solutions start with just a message.”

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