Reaching the unreachable
I spent last weekend enjoying some last vestiges of sunshine on a European city break. Lucky me. It was lovely. And the travelling part – a short flight on a budget airline and a taxi between airport and hotel - was pretty straightforward. Well, I felt it was anyway.
But on the way home, indulging in one of my favourite travel pastimes of observing the silly, sheep-like and sometimes just plain stupid behaviour of my fellow travellers, I saw my biggest professional challenge personified. I wasn’t even thinking about work or about strategic communications but it was all around me.
I’ll explain. International travel at the moment is slightly different: there’s a bit more admin involved. I know this because I keep up with the news and read travel guides, and I knew there were things I needed to do before I’d be allowed out of and back into the country. If I hadn’t gone and sought out the details myself, then the daily emails and texts from the airline would have signposted me to them. Actually, the sheer volume of these reminders irritated me – I didn’t need them, I already knew the important information and I’d already checked that I’d done all the paperwork.
Everyone on that flight will have had those same myriad reminders yet there were still people who got to the gate without a passenger locator form or a Covid test booking and wondered why they weren’t being allowed to board.
Those poor airline comms teams. This is crucial information, our travel is dependent on awareness and conformity, and the airlines are being helpful by sending the information out to us. But how can they reach the unreachable, the people closed off to all but their own priorities, to whom it wouldn’t occur to seek out information, or think that the emails might be worthy of their attention? People like the 30-something woman sitting behind me who was initially refused boarding until given a chance to fill in the paperwork at the gate (and who, once on the plane, loudly regaled her seatmate with her frustrations at these demands). She appeared to be a mature, intelligent, well-educated person. She worked in the media. (I did say she was loud). But she had absorbed none of the information she’d been sent. On prompting, she even found the emails and admitted that she’d deleted them, too busy enjoying her holiday to read them or wonder why they had been sent.
I genuinely think this illustrates our greatest challenge as corporate communicators: understanding how to get our messages to the right place in order to get the desired outcome.
When I’m developing a comms strategy, a crucial part of my research is understanding audience preferences. I want to know who I’m talking to and why and I also want to know where they are – physically and cerebrally – so that I can go to them instead of expecting them to come to me. But sometimes – as my airport eavesdropping demonstrated – even this insight isn’t enough.
My role is all about meeting challenges and finding solutions, peeling away the layers to get to the nugget in the middle. This one will be there somewhere – I just haven’t worked out how to get to it yet.