Keep Talking. I Can’t Hear You.

Keep Talking. I Can’t Hear You.

“I shot an elephant in my pajamas.”
Sure, it may seem as natural as breathing to you and me, but English is a mighty perplexing language to the non-native speaker. Some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently, some sound the same but have different meanings – even capitalization and the placement of commas can change everything. So with apologies to Groucho Marx, consider that first, simple sentence.

What’s it really mean? Was the elephant wearing your pajamas? Were you wearing pajamas? Or was the elephant in your jammies in the figurative sense (like by slipping his/her trunk up your pants leg?)
See? And while this example is sorta silly, similar slipups abound in corporate life. The other day I got an email that began with this sterling prose:

“Hi, as we discussed you are both going to work together.”

Wait, what?

My more attractive readers may recall that last November, I posted a blog called “How to Get My Attention” where I gleefully unloaded on a spammy email I received, but heaped praise on (and acted upon) a good one. This piece today is certainly related in that it involves bad communication, but the email example from last year was poorly researched and not applicable to me. This time I just don’t know what the #&% they’re talking about.

So what’s a BBQ loving, cigar stubbing, sales grubbing Texas country music fan to do?

I’m going to fight fire with fire (more on that later.) But first, I want to be sure I’ve at least tried to convince you that this is a real problem today, and not just me on a jet-lagged rant. Consider the following:

  • A Watson Wyatt study found that companies with effective communication are much more likely to have turnover lower than the industry average. With the recruitment and replacement process costing as much as several times a given person’s salary, we are talking about real money here.
  • Private company studies consistently reveal that poor (i.e. inadequate, contradictory, insensitive or otherwise incomplete) communication hurts employee morale, which is directly correlated to increased absenteeism (again – ka-ching ka-ching). But similar studies show that when employees believe they are in the loop, absenteeism is below average.
  • And perhaps most alarming, consider this – if you are not communicating effectively with your employees, what do you think is happening when they speak to customers? Are they magically translating your garbled messages into soothing marketing magic? No, chances are they are frustrating your customers because they are frustrated themselves. And in my experience, frustrated customers won’t do business.

Here’s an example of poor communication from the customer perspective. You’ve done your research and you find the truck you want at a local dealer. You walk in, greet the salesperson, point to the vehicle, and say you’re willing to pay X dollars for it. The salesperson says it’s worth at least X, but you meet in the middle and shake hands. Elapsed time – two minutes.

Then Elvis canters in astride a hot pink unicorn with “Ride of the Valkyries” as a stirring soundtrack. Exactly – you are dreaming. The only thing you can do at a car dealer in two minutes is find a parking spot. It will take your sales drone at least four trips to the cage to determine if they can sell you anything. And this is poor communication. Why not have the minimum acceptable cash price on all vehicles available to the sales staff all the time? Then deals can get done without the endless frog marches around the showroom. Poor communication sucks for customers and employees. Think it’s a coincidence that Carmax stock has outperformed its industry for 15 years while being a perennial member of the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list?


I think not. I believe that well-informed employees are healthier, happier, and more productive. This flows right to the bottom line, and (dare I say it?) will make me look good.

Poor communication can have even greater consequences for brands. If you’re a marketing person, you know that brands aren’t just something you do during the day. You live and breathe your brand. You have to, because it’s a living thing that can wither and die if you don’t feed it, flatter it, and talk it up to others consistently.

  • You spend many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on brand-building activities, and then (for example) your social media staff launches a Twitter campaign the day after your fleet is grounded due to labor issues. Poor internal communication – this happened to Qantas Airlines in 2011.
  • How about this one – you’re one of the largest tobacco companies in the world (possibly the galaxy) and you release a study concluding that premature deaths from smoking are a good thing due to reduced healthcare and pension costs. Unless your PR staff are all named Mr. Scrooge, how do you explain that gem from Phillip Morris in 1999? Epic failure in communication.
  • Some folks just can’t help themselves. In 2007 the Spanish retailer Zara pitched a handbag featuring colorful flowers, bicycles, and…swastikas? The bags were pulled, and presumably the entire design and communications teams were told why this was unacceptable (and then fired.) But seven years later Zara went off the rails again, marketing a sweater the resembled a concentration camp uniform, complete with a huge yellow Star of David. Can’t fix stupid, right?

Obviously, poor communication is both personal and corporate. So what do I intend to do about this crisis? I plan to beat offenders with their own sticks.

For example, my response to the “Hi, as we discussed…” email mentioned earlier was “yes.” If someone is either incapable of or won’t take the time to ask a coherent question, then my response will be equally nebulous and nonsensical. Time is money, people. I can be much more productive by ignoring those who can’t tell me what they want or need and shifting my attention to people who fully engage their brains. At the same time, I will be sure that I am crystal clear in my statements, instructions, and messages.


I want to be successful, I want my people to be successful, and I want Wright’s Media to be successful and an industry leader. To be successful in 2016 and beyond, you must have a clear vision of what you want to be. Then you have to live it (personally or corporately) while cranking up the marketing machine and spreading your gospel of greatness. Sub-par communication during any part of this effort will slow it down, derail it, or worse. Do it well, and you will save money, save time, boost sales, increase customer and employee engagement, create brand advocates – all things that will improve the performance of your company.