Brands and businesses always want to be trusted. But rarely do they trust their customers to understand how business works. This is why most organisations mission or values statements don’t include simple direct statements of what businesses are there, in part, to do which is make money. Businesses and corporations assume that we distrust them and therefore act defensively. In some cases, often the high profile ones, covered by the media, this default position of distrust is right but the vast majority of businesses, those that many of us work for, and employ our friends and family members, are full of good people trying to deliver well for their customers and make a fair profit in return, and money for themselves.
But most businesses, especially the big ones, are pathologically scared of saying anything that isn’t on message. And those messages are devoid of reality because they just don’t trust normal people to understand that running businesses is not easy, a balancing act and they have to make a return on their efforts. The cancer in these organisations are the public relations and corporate affairs departments that are obsessed with controlling the message, saying as little as possible, and where success is staying hidden.
In my experience most people are fair and reasonable. We understand that businesses need to make money, but we want them to give us good services and not exploit us for super-profitability. But most corporations treat us like we are cynical, conspiracy theorists or anti-business. And this has created a culture, especially in Britain, France and Germany, where making a profit is seen as inherently exploitative and almost immoral.
Witness John Petter from BT this morning (12th Feb 2010) on BBC Breakfast. Since BBC doesn’t replay Breakfast (can someone upload the interview to YouTube? YES ITS HERE) I’ll give a sense of the Tweets that were going round that summarise his performance:
There is no doubt that his performance this morning was very poor but I suspect rather than being a consequence of not enough media training, it was caused by too much media training. Having been through several versions of this torture myself these sessions are focused on Corporate Affairs/Public Relations/Media people drilling you. “Don’t say this, say that”, “don’t answer questions directly” and most importantly don’t tell the truth. Don’t lie, don’t tell the truth, better to not say anything at all.
This goes right to the heart of the way that businesses present themselves currently. There is no longer a recognition, a trust, that we understand how businesses work. Read the mission and values of BT (taken from their website this morning):
- Trustworthy – we do what we say we will
- Helpful – we work as one team
- Inspiring – we create new possibilities
- Straightforward – we make things clear
- Heart – we believe in what we do
I can guarantee that John Petter and his boss Gavin Patterson spend most of their time obsessing about how they can organise their business to make money, grow and be cost efficient, whilst giving a good service. That’s what they get rewarded for. And yet making a fair return, making money for themselves and their employees, is no where to be seen in the mission and values of BT. These vision, mission and values statements have become divorced from reality, and its not just BT that suffer this problem.
Every business person that goes through a media training torture session comes out scared to death of saying anything, and is certainly left with the impression that having an open conversation about working hard to deliver value whilst making money is completely “off message”.
That’s what you could hear this morning from Mr Petter. His message was “buy unlimited packages” and he automaton-like repeated this time and time again. Charlie Stayt asked for a commitment from him that the prices would always be better value now and in the future, something which was impossible to answer on the couch in a studio. But instead of calmly responding, as Mr Petter might in a normal conversation with you or me, that BT always wanted to be good value, but that these decisions needed to be properly planned his only reply was “buy unlimited packages”. He thereby demonstrated that he didn’t trust those listening to his interview to conclude that he was a reasonable man with a reasonable approach and, yep, these things generally needed to be thought about.
Even when Susannah Reid asked him directly why he didn’t just explain that giving customers free calls meant that they didn’t make enough money, he wasn’t brave or trusting enough, to agree and admit that giving a good service and making a fair profit was what they were trying to do. All he could say was “buy unlimited packages”.
I felt sorry for John Petter this morning, a classic victim of media training where the goal is to say nothing, and a corporate and cultural context where trusting people to understand that businesses are there to try and give good services that we all need, and make a fair profit in return, is unacceptable.
Unfortunately until brands and businesses start to wake up to the fact that trust is a two way relationship, they will never win our trust.
Did you see the interview this morning. What do you think?
Do you work for BT? How did you feel?
Have you been media trained? What is your experience?
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Thanks – have a lovely, non-business, non-brand, non-marketing weekend and Valentine’s day.
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