How to Give Constructive Criticisms on Unsuccessful Communications Attempts

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Many are well aware that with today’s fast, easy and open flow and access of information, it is very easy to find out when a brand or company fails in its campaigns or communications efforts. Even in the past few months, there have been several cases coming from high-profile brands – whether for marketing, advertising, public relations (PR) purposes, and so on.

It is now inevitable that someone will criticize or at least comment on every wrong move made by brands, organizations, or public figures. The worst part is when the audience starts to demean, humiliate or bully the mistake, whether done individually or collectively as a group or institution.

We usually see this when it comes to failed campaigns, mistakes in conveying the message or selecting the channels, wrong timing, incorrect responses to customers, media or influencers, or simply the use of inappropriate words. There are just so many rooms for mistakes if a brand or company is not careful enough, which can easily lead to a crisis.

It is also undeniable that PR or communications practitioners – whether they are in-house, freelance, agency, or consultancy – such as ourselves often can’t hold back in giving our comments or criticisms as well. On one hand, we would like to showcase our expertise by conveying our views on a certain case or use it for educational purposes, and this is often done publicly through social media, webinars, and such.

In our opinion, doing so is fine as long as we know exactly what the problem is and the facts that we can find and cross-check. What needs to be avoided is giving comments or criticisms that deviate from the events or facts that occurred because that is no different from conveying false or misleading information or can even be considered as slander.

The worst that could happen in this context is when a PR or communications practitioner starts to humiliate or bully a certain brand or company due to their failed PR or marketing efforts. Moreover, a PR agency that demeans, humiliates, bullies, or even attacks a certain brand, but at the end of the day uses it as part of their selling and promotional activity or simply to uplift their social media content. In these cases, we genuinely think that such practices are out of line. There are so many more ethical and creative ways to promote our agency and media content.

Then again, commenting and criticizing are fine as long as they are consistent with the facts that we can obtain which need of course be checked or analyzed beforehand, and then conveyed constructively – not disparaging.

Someone out there might say, “I want the comments or criticisms to be powerful, so that they are heard enough and these brands or companies are pushed to be more aware of the significance of PR, and if they need help, they might well seek our assistance.”

We fully understand this! Over the years, Occam has met with quite a several prospects who literarily underestimate the value of PR. Some think it is an easy job, while others say they have been doing it correctly all along. While in fact, you can see that some of their past campaigns or activities may be considered irrelevant. Some were reckless or inconsiderate and others were even demeaning to certain groups of people. When it comes to this matter, we are as upset as everyone else.

Here’s the thing though. On one hand, as PR practitioners, we have a responsibility to educate the market about the importance of PR or communications, and this is not something to be taken lightly or carelessly. Specifically, to make businesses aware of and capable of preventing improper campaigns or communication efforts that may offend or attack particular groups of society. If they need help, it is imperative that they immediately seek professional assistance.

However, we don’t want these brands or companies to be afraid of exploring or improving their PR efforts. We certainly do not want them to think that uplifting their communications efforts is risky, or that engaging with the public, media, and influencers is scary, and that the communications community now is even scarier.

Such situations may cause businesses to become even more introverted than ever, making it difficult for them to improve their PR efforts – let alone explore opportunities with PR agencies or consultancies such as ourselves. This is what we all want to avoid. We want to comment and criticize enough, but we believe there are professional boundaries that PR practitioners like us in the market need to consider. Unless it is to protest against something, join a certain movement, or run a petition. This is a different context.

So, what is a good way to convey our comments and criticisms towards brands or companies as PR practitioners – publicly through social media or other speaking opportunities such as interviews, webinars, online classes, etc., in response to failed campaigns or unsuccessful communications efforts?

Allow us to share some simple tips and quick reminders on this, coming from our opinion based on the experience that we have so far:

1. Focus on “How to Change”

Criticisms can be constructive when they are framed appropriately. We may need to mention the name of the brand or company multiple times for context purposes, but frame it in a way that the focus is on the necessary change, without resorting to accusations or derogatory tone and comments. Frame the criticism to include the benefit to the brand or company making the change.

Change the focus from “you/them” to “how” to help deliver the message and always try to give specific examples and suggestions. This keeps the discussion focused and delivers a concrete area for improvement, preventing businesses from potentially feeling attacked.

2. Give your intention some attention

A quote from a business strategy, advisement, and diversity and inclusion coach Gina Gomez, “Think about why we feel the need to share the criticism.”

If it is truly to drive certain improvements, we should approach it from the perspective of how we would want the comment or criticism to be conveyed to our brand or company, agency, or even our team.

3. Point out opportunities, not faults

Understand that we may need to put some context when commenting or explaining the case that we are discussing, but it would be pointless to merely point out the faults. Instead, point out the opportunities that businesses could have secured if their campaigns or communications efforts were done correctly. Hence, our message has more credibility and making the audience have more trust in our expertise.

4. Use emotional intelligence

Consider your emotional state before delivering the criticism – are you anxious, irritated, overly excited, and so forth? If so, you may be initiating an attack that will backfire. Constructive criticism starts with respect for the company’s dignity. Choose your words wisely and select those that do not put companies on the defensive. Keep your emotions and ego at bay, as they can derail your message. Give a professional opinion instead of an emotional release, and take some time to understand how the comment or criticism can impact your audience’s perspective to obtain the desired outcome.

5. Build a bridge, don’t burn one

Constructive criticism intends to raise awareness and understanding. The goal from there is to get our expertise recognized by others and to build networking opportunities. The last thing we want is for businesses to avoid our agency or consultancy due to the harsh and “no solution” comments we make.

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