Shed the Shield – why businesses need to talk straight

(post by Andrew Thorp)

Tiger Woods is back to No.1 in the world golf rankings but he languishes WAY down the list of most compelling interviewees! He may be a wizard on the links but there’s very little that’s magical about his press conferences.

They’re invariably dull, lifeless affairs littered with bland Wood-isms like “I brought my A-game with me” and “I’m happy with where I am right now.”  Not exactly Pulitzer Prize material, but Woods is just an extreme example of communication that’s had all the juice squeezed out.

I mention this here because it’s depressingly similar to the way a lot of businesses and organizations communicate. It’s risk-free, anodyne and entirely forgettable.  Not forgettable in the sense of recalling the words – “dedicated solutions provider…customer-focused…trusted supplier” – I could trot them off all day.  But forgettable in that I can’t recall WHICH company these relate to; it could be any one of 1000’s!

Like Tiger, companies communicate from behind a protective shield.  They worry what people might think so they say things that won’t make people think (or feel) anything!  But isn’t that what communication is about?  Isn’t it meant to stimulate some reaction, some act – like picking up the phone or visiting the web-site?

Peter Marsh, boss of ad agency ABM knew he had to provoke a reaction when he pitched for the contract to transform British Rail’s lousy public image in the 1980′s.  He could have presented some flash mood boards, data-rich graphs and emphasized the agency’s experience in related industries.  But instead he invited the BR Chairman and Board to ABM’s London offices and kept them waiting in a litter-strewn reception for 15 minutes (with insufficient chairs and in the company of a gum-chewing receptionist).

As the delegation got up to leave in disgust, Marsh burst into the room dressed in full BR uniform including hat, flag and whistle.  ”Gentlemen,” he announced, “this is how the public perceives your service, and we’re going to change that!”  They won the contract.

At Mojo Your Business we’ve been campaigning for a more transparent, authentic and passionate style of communication to be adopted by leaders and marketers.  We’re not necessarily advocating stunts like the above, but at least ABM were willing to wear their bold, creative philosophy on their sleeve.  The way they delivered their pitch was an expression of who they were.

Speaking from the heart about who you are and what you believe in gives your audience a glimpse inside you and your business. This transparent approach is more vulnerable than hiding behind the shield.  Not everyone will agree with you or identify with your cause.  But it’s the best way to build a bond between you and the people that matter (your clients, employees, sponsors etc).

Take a look at these 3 highly relevant TED talks:

  • Dr Brene Brown on why this form of openness helps you build stronger relationships
  • Simon Sinek on why telling people what you stand for is your only marketing strategy
  • Dan Pallotta – a wonderful example of laying your beliefs firmly on the line.

Are you ready to shed the shield and tell the world what you really think?


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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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