Classical public relations concerns “publics” in the plural. The readers of the media with whom you may interact, but who are not yet known to you, are one of these. Your clients are another.
Any good public relations consultant will tell you that when dealing with the media you should keep your messages as simple and clear as possible, leaving no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. When communicating direct with clients, however, this advice is often wantonly ignored.
Many of us provide complex services to clients with equally complex needs. It can be tempting to assume that these clients are as deeply involved in the issues on which we advise them as we are, and to reflect this in the content of our letters or emails.
The problem, as anyone who has been on the receiving end of such a communication will attest, is that the most important point invariably gets lost and clients become confused.
They can, in the worst case, come away with an entirely different message from that which was intended. To prevent this just make your point as simply as possible and then stop.
If action is required on the part of clients, state this clearly and, wherever possible, provide a timescale within which it should be completed. If no action is required then make this equally clear.
This is particularly true when working with consumer clients.
There are certain things that you must communicate to them but that you believe may risk alarming them unnecessarily – for example, in financial services, the takeover of a product provider by a lesser-known competitor.
It can seem like a good idea to mitigate these concerns by adding extra background detail but, in many cases, this can have the opposite effect and instead see your telephone ringing off the hook with enquiries from confused clients.
If you know unequivocally that there is no need for concern then simply say so. If your clients trust you this will be enough.
If there is cause for concern then tell them very briefly (usually no more than a single short paragraph) what action you have already taken to address it.
If you will keep a situation under review then tell your clients this and leave it at that. Do not go into detail about the many variables you will monitor and the background to and possible implications of these.
Your clients pay you to worry about these things so they don’t have to. The very few who actually do want to know the detail will contact you to ask for it, which is considerably better than the vast majority who neither wanted nor understood it calling you to clear up their confusion.
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