Communicating the unpalatable: How NOT to be the ‘hired gun’

Corporate communicators often get stuck conveying the results of decisions they had no role in making. When shareholders get priority over staff and customers, spin happens. Try a new tack.

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In Hollywood Westerns, the hired gun is called in to clean up the town after problems have spun out of control. (The problems usually involve a cattle baron.)

More often than not, communicators are the hired guns of business. Unless they have that coveted “seat at the table,” they are never part of the decisions they’ll wind up having to communicate. Even then, leaders often make misguided decisions and think the communications team can spin gold from them.

This hired-gun mentality is a key reason for PR pros’ reputation as spin doctors. The expectation from company leaders: “We screwed up. Make it sound okay.”

In today’s environment, that won’t do. Whether you work in marketing, PR or corporate communications, your involvement should begin early enough for you to have the opportunity to speak truth to power: “There’s no good way to communicate that.”

I’m not talking about communicating bad news. There’s no getting around the need to communicate decisions to cut staff, reduce benefits, recall a product or terminate a product line.

I’m talking about decisions, for example, to embark on a new course that customers, employees or other stakeholders will have to understand and support.

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