Just Because You Don't Like It

One of the most painful things about this election season has no doubt been the fighting with friends and even family members about which candidate is better.

I’m not here in this post to advocate for one side or another. Only to point out that this national argument we’re having is dirty. The things we learn, or think we have learned, are more upsetting than we ever thought they could be.

Sometimes they are horrifying.

I don’t remember anything like this ever happening in the past. A recent survey said that 7% of Americans have seen the end of a friendship because of the election but my gut tells me the number is much higher.

Undoubtedly one of the reasons we’re seeing such a level of unvarnished hatred – there’s really no other way to describe it – is that the fighting has exposed some of the most offensive, disgusting, and even horrifying accusations that many of us have ever seen. It’s gotten so bad that even Saturday Night Live tried to lighten it up with a skit that had the candidates “reconciling.”

It is hard. As a writer and political junkie who’s also worked in public affairs, public relations, marketing and branding over the years, it’s like watching an unstoppable car accident unfold on the freeway, in very slow motion.

Perhaps the most painful aspect of the race, for me, is watching both sides try to avoid the unavoidable baggage that comes along with each candidate. Whatever side you’re on, it is most definitely there. It sucks to see it but it sucks worse when otherwise intelligent people are willing to go to the ends of the earth to clap their hands over their ears and go, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, YOU’RE CRAZY.”

The pain of watching this never goes away, although it’s unfortunately darkly familiar. Although early in my career I had the good fortune of being encouraged to seek out truth, regardless of where it took me, that quickly changed when I joined the private sector and then the government. Invariably — and this wasn’t just me, I saw it happen to every other communicator I knew — the client had a desired version of the facts. And if you did not toe the line, meaning you totally drank the Kool-Aid and went along with whatever they said, you were quickly on the outside of the in-group.

It’s funny. You would think that communication specialists, being paid to inflate the value of a commodity, would themselves have a very high comfort level with lying their freaking heads off.

Not true.

Because what every good communicator knows is the same thing that every client does not want to hear. It’s what they go “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, DON’T TELL ME” about. It even leads them to engage a consultant on a job, ask for an assessment of their brand, and then REFUSE TO PAY BECAUSE THEY DON’T LIKE THE RESULTS OF THE AUDIT.

Look, don’t shoot the messenger, okay? The data is the data – which anyone can read. You’re paying your communication team to develop it for you, based on solid and repeatable methodology. You’re paying for their experience, dealing with similar cases in the past. You’re paying for the instinct they’ve developed over the course of probably twenty or thirty years in business.

It’s up to you whether you want to make your business, nonprofit, school, hospital, church, mosque or synagogue, educational provider or government agency as successful as it can be given the realities of the marketplace.

If you really want to do that, you have to take those headphones off and listen attentively to those who possess the expertise you’re paying for.


All opinions my own. Photo by Matt Ridings via Flickr (Creative Commons)