Communication Without Communicating

Communication Without Communicating
By: Ishola Ayodele

Albert Einstein once said; “the problems of our lives cannot be solved by being in the same level of thinking we were when we created them”.

Hence, there is a great need for us as communicators to start thinking strategically in order to create the strategic communication that will yield the desired  results.

The word strategy comes from the Greek word ‘Strategia’ which means ‘generalship’. The General and his Lieutenants will design, plan, and conceptualize the overall military operations and movements in a battle before lifting a sword. Thus, Strategy is undertaken before the battle. Tactics are implemented during the battle.

However, in this 21st century, the only type of communication that can yield the desired result is Strategic communication. Majority of the audience in this 21st century are trendy, vocal, and tech savvy unlike in the past they will react to your message because they have the control over the channel of communication.

Let us look at the H&M’s 2018 Racist crisis which felt the full weight of this 21st century audience due to lack of strategic thinking. Not only did H&M lose money but also got its reputation damaged.

The Crisis
In an attempt to reposition their products so as so to attract the black community, H&M the Swedish multinational clothing-retail company known for its fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers, and children through its PR and Marketing Communication team came up with an ad which they believed will appeal to the blacks.

In the ad on their website, a young black boy wore a green hoodie with the inscription “The coolest monkey in the jungle”.

Public Reaction
Rather than attracting the black community, H&M incurred the wrath of everybody. There was massive condemnation of H&M. They were accused of being a racist organization. Rap star P. Diddy, Football Star Romelo Lukaku & and Basketball Star LeBron James were among the many celebrities who criticized H&M.

In South Africa, H&M’s largest market in Africa the criticism and condemnation were so much that people began to call for a boycott of H&M’s Stores.

The company’s apology and removal of the ad didn’t stop protesters from disrupting their business. H&M finally closed all their stores in South Africa on the 13th of January 2018 after another protest.

According to the Huffington post of 15th of January 2018 “H&M Reputation is Damaged”.

The pertinent question begging for answers is. How can they claim they don’t know that Monkey is the racial slur used for blacks by racist? If it smells like racist, looks like racist then it is almost certain it is racist which is why the public didn’t accept H&M’s apology.

These were the type of people Dr. Steve Adubato was referring to in his insightful book ‘What were they thinking’. One will be forced to ask, what was H&M thinking to have come up with such an ad? The bitter truth is that they weren’t thinking in the first place.

This is a classic example of a brand that communicates without strategic thinking. Brands, Companies and Leaders who follow this part to communication are just talkers not communicators and they are also prone to crisis.

Our job as a communicator has gone beyond just issuing press releases, posting company activities on social media or just reacting to comments about our organizations.
Our job is to think strategically ahead of time on how to position our organization in the same wavelength with this sophisticated audience in order to gain their trust and loyalty because that is when we can connect with them through our message.

A closer look at the H&M’s PR and Marketing Communication team revealed they were all whites. Consequently, H&M got it wrong ab initio they should have included blacks in the team that will design an ad for the black community. Team selection in creating a message is part of strategic thinking.

The 21st century audience is more sophisticated and powerful than we can imagine. They have their perspectives and biases on issues which may make or mar our message to them. Consequently, to effectively target this audience our message must start from their mind, we must find a way to make them own the message as if it was their idea.

Communication is not just an art it is more of science; we want them not to only understand what we are saying but to also feel what we felt.

This is why I love the 1978 Mexican statement which says, “Public relations practice is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization and the public’s interest”.
As a communicator every of your brand, corporate or Marketing communication must lead to financial or reputational gain for the company otherwise you are just talking and not communicating.

And to achieve this you must first embarked on strategic thinking which will generate the unique ideas that you need to communicate strategically in other to move your audience from where they are to where you want them to be.

This Japanese adage sums it up beautifully, ‘Good thinking, good product’. In the same vein, “good thinking produces good communication”.


Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner with special interest in Strategic Communication, Issues & Crisis management.

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