How many of you PR consultants, facing a client in a crisis-like situation, are asked to highlight he good deeds they have done, their CSR commitments, the amount of taxes they’ve paid and the rightness of their cause?
These requests come as if some good news about the company can mitigate or balance out the negative stories that are being written about the client when they should be in crisis management mode.
How many you have succumbed to such requests and have therefore done an injustice to the client?
How many have actually tried to convince them otherwise. That positive news about your good deeds and contributions cannot cancel out the bad news if it does not answer a particular charge against them. How may of you have tried to tell the client that unless they stop dicking about with such wishful thinking and begin serious work on how they are perceived it would be too late once public opinion solidifies around them?
I hope that there are many of you who tried to fight the good PR fight. There are many of you who would’ve lost the battle to do the right thing because you did not have the arguments to buttress your claims that reason and the truth matter less than appealing to the emotions of your targeted audiences.
If you’ve been in that situation, take heart. Science is on your side. The February 27, 2017 issue of The New Yorker caries an article Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds in which the author, Elizabeth Kolbert, reviews the insights from three books — “The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” — by behavior scientists and researchers.
Collectively they all come to the same conclusion: people will believe what they want to believe, even if facts tell them the opposite.
Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better…
This is the reason why, in America, Trump and Kellyanne Conway can get away with blatant lies and preposterous claims. It is also the reason why the multitudes would rather believe in the claims and exhortations of people like Rizieq and the other hardline regionalists rather than, say, the logic of those advocating for Ahok.
This poses a challenge for PR consultants advising clients where some sort of negative perception has set around their client. What can you do to turn perceptions around? To deny the allegations hurled at your client would not work as this, paradoxically, reinforces the negative perception. To pile on chapter and verse on the good the client has done will, if you agree with the arguments in The New Yorker article, fall on deaf ears.
So what is one to do?
The solution seems to be from something I heard at Comedy Central with Trevor Noah. There the comedian describes Trump like a spoiled kid going about saying something outrageous like “My dad is the strongest man in the whole Universe.” Now if you argue with him and refuse him, you’ll only make him more strident and his followers more stridently against you.
What can you do. Noah’s recommendation is not to refute him but to engage him to to explain why he holds such an opinion. He cannot, of course, justify and has no recourse but to retreat. At the same time he can’t get shriller because he’s not being confronted.
The New Yorker article also hints at this approach. In Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us, the authors are quoted as saying “The challenge that remains…is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”
Not something easy to address, but in this age of unreason, hoax news, file claims and blatant lies what else can we do?