Theo Coggin

A blog on communications

Communicate, don’t preach!

Communicate. Don't preach!

Communicate. Don’t preach!

When running the Quo Vadis Communication courses I can always tell which of the delegates come out of a fundamentalist view of advertising, religious beliefs or political persuasion. They are the ones whose faces glaze over when I explain the first principle we consider in our media relations and Corporate Communications courses.

That principle, simply put, says that organisational communications “is not for preaching” or, expressed another way, should not smack of propaganda.

Of course that is the very antithesis of communication when one is writing advertising copy, preaching a sermon in a mosque, church, or worshipping while at shul, or in any other religious context, or trying to persuade someone to vote for a particular political party.

Communicating in a manner that promotes any one of those forms has its place. And that place is firmly in the corner of bias and a lack of objectivity.

Now the latter issue – that of objectivity – is a subject of great complexity which I shall not attempt to deal with here. But I must mention that advertisers, preachers and political propagandists naturally all believe that their message is objective! Enough said.

The point I really wish to make here is that corporate communications should always seek to influence, but not spill over into propagandist mode.  Corporate messaging that seeks to communicate through propaganda is likely to fail.

Audiences are looking for messages that are based on fact, empirical research if that is available and, where appropriate, relevant opinion from a credible source. The latter can be an expert in the field about which one is writing, or an informed spokesperson for the organisation/company about which one might be writing.

I have written before about the importance of balance, and the principle of “not preaching” has everything to do with this.

When intelligent readers look at advertising copy they will know that there is an inherent subjectivity in the claims that are made. Voters, likewise, if they are discerning, will recognise many of the promises made by politicians seeking election are as full of air as the empty drums they are beating.

As for religion, by definition each faith will promote its beliefs from its own point of view.

What the corporate communicator needs to be looking for is an agglomeration of words that ensures that the reader and/or listener sits back, gives due consideration to the argument and information presented, and makes up his or her own mind.

The challenge is to get your audience thinking. Recognise your audience as intelligent, and whose members are disparate intellectual beings, and you will discover that you are able to influence through a discerning presentation far more than any in-your-face editorial assault.

To borrow from a religious idiom, such communication is a bit like casting your bread upon the waters: you may never know what the result is of what you write.

Rest assured, however, that if you get your reader’s brain ticking, and moving on to greater heights of writing, you will have achieved the objective of influencing your reader.

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3 thoughts on “Communicate, don’t preach!

  1. Reblogged this on Just another day in my life and commented:
    Another excellent lesson from Theo Coggin. It’s so important to look at our writing critically and assess whether we are indeed preaching to our audience.

  2. “The challenge is to get your audience thinking. Recognise your audience as intelligent and as a disparate intellectual being and you will discover that you are able to influence through a discerning presentation far more than any in-your-face editorial assault.”

    Wonderful words Theo. If only religious institutions could grasp this truth and do it. So much I can say about this, but it’s not the place to do it. One thing I know is that the pulpit is a place where I can no longer go.

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