Crying is sometimes ok, even for public affairs professionals

Industry fights on fact, loses on emotions in Brussels. Just contrast the latest NGO campaign you’ve come across to that bland position paper (see here) you just wrote that ‘welcomes the Commission’s proposal’ and then lists all the facts that make it a complete disaster for your industry. Yet while many public affairs professionals understand that to win a debate emotion is as important as logic, as soon as it is suggested that emotion may be deployed in their advocacy panic sets in. So what’s to be frightened of in arguments that seek to illicit an emotional as well as logical response?

First of all, fear itself. When consultants, including this one, show examples of emotion being used it is generally campaigns that stoke fear of some kind. For a bunch of people trying to save the planet/children/future, NGOs tend to use fear a lot; fear of the unknown, fear of chemicals killing your children or fear the world’s going to end sooner rather than later. Many industries’ only emotional angle is to talk of industries closing and jobs leaving. Yet even in this they are timid. When I see an industry do something like create a line of jobless Europeans from the Berlaymont to the Spinelli building I’ll know they’ve got it. The problem is industry never will. Fear does not resonate with the corporate brand the CEO is trying to engender. Too much fear risks spooking shareholders and unnerving customers. We are about to be put out of business is not great for the share price.

Unhappily, as fear is the emotion banded about most, this causes many public affairs professionals to shun any kind of emotional line of argumentation.

Secondly, facts get in the way. Many of the public affairs professionals in Brussels come from organisations where the predominant culture is people who like either numbers or science. These folks natural tendency is to look at the data and build up to a message. Naturally, this makes the arguments developed factual ones. Dry. Unemotional. Facts. Facts are important, and should remain so. I don’t see an argument not supported by them ever winning. But they are necessary, not sufficient to win. The flipside of the coin would be to find an argument that convinces people and then find the facts to support it. It’s no less factual, just more likely to convince.

So what can you do? Next time you are devising your next position paper, letter, or preparing a meeting ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want your audience to know?
  • What do you want your audience to think?
  • What do you want your audience to feel?
  • What do you want your audience to do?

They may help you structure your argument in a way that takes the audience through awareness to understanding and then belief and action. To help with the feel question, here’s a list of emotions that may provide inspiration. As while fear may be used, things like hope may be better placed to meet your organization’s goals. And remember, hope has been known to win things like elections. Emotion. Yes, we can.




December 05, 2013 | 8:00 PM

Crying is sometimes ok, even for public affairs professionals: