I had my share of contact with Angry Canadians on the phone or face-to-face over the years, berating me for what my organization was doing or not doing. They have their grievances to air and their favorite targets, Lowell Green isn’t on the air right now, so they decide to call you instead and give you an earful. Like those manly guys bitching among themselves in some dark corner of cyberspace.
Of course, sometimes reporters are like that too – they know exactly what story they want to write and damnit, that’s what they’re gonna write, no matter the facts and points of view you might present to them.
But you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to argue your case – especially with reporters, but also the mad angry Canucks. Because it’s your job. Because you represent your organization. Because they are taxpayers, citizens who have the right to tell you that they really, really resent having to pay for your salary.
Because, like the guys calling Lowell Green, they are a (hopefully small) part of your audience and you need to take that into account in your comms.
So I play the good paper-pusher. I listen. I take notes. I argue a little, grabbing a few choice tidbits from my bag of facts, figures and statistics. I assure them I will pass on their interesting comments to the people in charge (since obviously I’m not), which I do, if only to mention that “we’ve got x negative calls about this topic, do we need to rework the messaging?”
And once in a while, some angry Canuck will have something to say that makes you straighten in your chair and really pay attention. He’s not just angry – he’s hurt by something your organization has said or done. Obscured by confused rhetoric and recriminations, there’s a valid point. You thank him, you take his phone number if he doesn’t mind, you hang up. You check a few facts, discuss it with a colleague who’s smarter than you are, build a case and take it to the policy guys.
All this to say, flacks should be alert to those criticisms from Angry Canucks. Especially if we take the time to talk with other front-line employees and regional staff, we tend to be in contact with the world outside the ivory towers where we work. If we listen, people will tell us what we’re doing wrong or could be doing better, well before our bosses and colleagues get wind of it. A chance to react early, before more damage is done.
No, I didn’t get one of those calls this week, yet. But I look forward to the next one.
See also: Angry Canucks