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Book review: Meet the People

Cover of Meet the People by James Frayne Organisations must see themselves as others do, argues James Frayne in this thorough, well-researched and practical assessment of corporate communications in a digital, social media world.

Networks have led to an explosion of publishing power: we have moved from 20th century, Bernays model of corporate PR where companies were in ?transmit? mode, operating through the medium of ?elite? journalists. We now have to engage in direct, two-way conversations, he said.

Moreover the corporate world can learn from the success of political campaigns (some in the UK, more from the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidential campaigns) about how to target a campaign, how to get more emotion into our conversations, and how to use endorsements.

He makes two very valid points. But I wonder whether social media requires a total revolution in communications or just an adjustment in technique to cope with a new channel. This surely depends on the business segment, the frequency of customer engagement and whether communications are heavily regulated.

In the fast-moving consumer goods, media or fashion worlds, interacting through social media feels important and probably revolutionises the way a company has to communicate. This is less obvious, for example, in my sector: few want to banter online with an insurance company, social media traffic volume is relatively low, complaints and customer enquiries tend to be formal and responses have to be very considered.

Businesses learning from political campaigns run by Dick Morris and Karl Rove are interesting. There is no doubt that analysis and insight, endorsement techniques, methodical grid planning and better visuals could be used more effectively to change hearts and minds in business too. Marketers know this already but communications teams, as Mr Frayne correctly identifies, can be shorter term, more reactive and apprehensive about anything called ?strategy?. This is a hangover from communicating through a series of one-on-one engagements with specialist journalists ? narrowcast rather than broadcast.

Mr Frayne?s concern is mainly broad corporate reputation and it is a pity he does not cover investor communications. The share price is the corporate version of a poll rating for a party in government, defending a record. This is hearts, minds and wallets territory, but a much higher standard of verification and tighter process is required than in politics.

M&A is also where you need war rooms, OODA (observe, orient, decide, and act) approaches and other Pentagon-inspired disciplines the book describes, which may however be over the top in normal circumstances, especially for smaller, resource-constrained businesses.

Despite this Meet the People is generally at its strongest in its practical advice ? some arcane, some very obvious but the better for it. He even reminds us to make content relevant and interesting, a requirement that has not changed despite the advent of social media.
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