As the blood in my left arm swelled just where my forearm meets the inside of my elbow, while the Red Cross Blood Donation Center worker fumbled about, trying to remove the needle that had so badly missed, then nicked and then further tweaked my vein, I thought to myself, “I wonder what she does for a living.” I sure hoped it wasn’t really this mess.
I’ve been a blood donor for a good six years now, and make sure to do it a few times every year, and I’m not going to stop because of the bad experience here or there. However, knowing that if it had been my first time I’d never return again, I am thinking tonight about setting expectations and delivering on promises.
I figure that the two most important components, however broad they may be, to successfully delivering to any audience you seek to influence for their hearts, minds or wallets are setting expectations and meeting those expectations.
It would be wonderful to live in the easiest of worlds and keep expectations low. Where to partially fail is to meet expectations, and where though the customer/client/whoever may not be thrilled, he/she won’t feel deceived. Of course, few places are going to stay in business, and as BP and their 60/70% guesstimates on top kills can attest, low expectations won’t lead to a lot of buy-in.
Success then relies on working hard to sustain and meet high expectations. However, sometimes the demands are nothing short of unattainable. Other times, you can’t control the delivery of an item, you can only tell how and when it will be delivered to your client, hoping desperately that the promises you made to earn trust and business are kept by those who are trusted with the responsibility to keep them.
I’d contend that practitioners of Public Diplomacy and strategic communication have to contend with that every day. Where they do the work of sharing and engaging in a world that is meant to put America’s best face forward, the best face isn’t always the most reflective of what really happens when one buys in to the American ideal.
In a nation so large as the United States with so many complicated interests (many self-serving, many contradictory and many illogical), how do we generate a successful communication strategy that generates interested publics and allies, yet minimizes disgust and cynicism when the country stumbles in practicing what it preaches?
This isn’t to say that I deny the substantial strengths of the United States, its businesses, its people and its belief systems. It is to say, however, that a more open society is subject to the billions of fact checkers who can share their discontent on any number of social media platforms, while a more closed society can more carefully craft a story and the perception that validates its tale. The United States’ engagement with the world has to be on real terms with real expectations. In order to remain competitive with others who can more successfully use fiction (at least for now), those real stories also have to be really good.
How does one tell the story well enough so that the audience is willing to accept the needle without becoming disenchanted when the extraction is a painful one?