Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Muskrat Falls–Mastering the Art of Communication Failure

In marketing you must choose between boredom, shouting and seduction. Which do you want? - Roy H. Williams

You don't need to be the good guy to get a good message out. - LL Cool J

Watching the dialog around the Muskrat Falls energy project continue to degrade into a noisy cacophony of he said / she said (much of it veiled in secrecy or not based on data) in Newfoundland and Labrador makes me wonder who is in charge of communications on this project and within the Government.

Oh sure, many of those names are public domain but in truth, Muskrat Falls has moved from being a project of potential strategic and economic importance to one where the Government is unable to mange the message of its potential and so the project has morphed into a communication failure regardless of its potential in other areas.

Dear Government of Newfoundland and Labrador:

It doesn’t matter if the project is the greatest project on the planet.  If you can’t sell it, then it isn’t.  The world of the voter is less one of facts and more one of perspective and optics.  Failure to manage either or both produces failure for the Government no matter how much you would like to believe otherwise.

In other words:

To influence or move the mind, you must touch the heart – not stab it.

Engagement is easy, as I illustrate in this oversimplified overview of engaging the populace (click on the diagram for a larger version of it).

Engaging the populace.

When it comes to managing the message around Muskrat Falls, the Government’s actions and message need to be centered around:

  1. What do we want the voter to feel?
  2. What do we want the voter to think?
  3. What do we want the voter to do?

As far as I can tell, it is pretty easy to guess the answers to the first two questions and with an answer to those two in-hand, it’s pretty easy to anticipate what the answer to question three will be in the next general election.

If the Government can’t sell the numbers, then either:

  1. They don’t have all the numbers.
  2. The numbers don’t work.
  3. They don’t understand the numbers.
  4. They don’t know how to sell the numbers.

If any of these is true, they have a high probability of ending up in this embarrassing dilemma:

Fun definition of economics

The Bottom Line

Scammers and spammers with almost no budget can write a compelling message to convince people to give up their identities and billions of dollars.  A guy in Nigeria can convince people to destroy their Lives with a simple email that promises unlimited wealth.

Infomercials on TV can convince people to buy every ridiculous product under the sun when knowledge exists in abundance that such products are merely the latest incarnation of snake-oil.  Monty Python’s bits about stringettes (miles of string cut into 2-inch lengths), Titan Missiles (the novelty missile) and Scum (the combination hair oil, foot ointment and salad dressing) are perfect parodies of this.

And yet the Newfoundland and Labrador Government still can’t convince the media and much of the electorate that the numbers for Muskrat Falls work.  However, they do appear to have mastered the art of failing to set, meet or manage the expectations of the Province (a dubious honor that occurs when there are issues in listening and adaptation as well as in communication).

Their inability to manage the message, touch the heart or influence the mind screams a loud warning to me in the areas of ignorance, indifference and incompetence.

What does it say to you?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – Clarification of my stand on Muskrat Falls

Within the first hour of this blog being posted, I received a number of emails from people with some criticizing my strong stand in favor of Muskrat Falls and others criticizing my strong stand against it …. all based on the same post.

My response to them is “How can you find enough information to create an informed opinion at all?” and that is my primary concern.

Unfortunately for anyone in the business of communication, leaving a knowledge gap or void in someone’s mind invites that gap to be filled based on the knowledge and Life context of that person.

In other words, leaving the potential for influence to chance.

I don’t like to leave my results to chance.

Do you?

As to whether the Newfoundland and Labrador Government has the project well in hand in the areas of strategy, communications, et al, listen to this interview (part 1 and part 2) between James MacLeod of The Telegram and Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley, read Mr. MacLeod’s article here and form your own opinion.

Addendum 2 – March 1, 2014

Previously mentioned reporter James MacLeod of The Telegram continues to ask difficult questions that are not being answered.  His latest exploration of the Muskrat Falls project can be found here - Feds won’t confirm details of Muskrat Falls watchdog report.

What worries me about Mr. MacLeod’s questions is that they are not tricky, underhanded, sly or designed to trip anyone up.  They appear to be honest, straightforward questions simply designed to obtain information that the people of the Province should already have.  When the answers provided to him are nonsensical, inconsistent or evasive, he asks additional questions to obtain clarity and he does so firmly, politely and respectfully.

So this journalist appears to be merely trying to obtain the truth in a non-sensationalist way which is a rarity in modern news media.

The inability for the Newfoundland Government to provide the truth either represents an inability to communicate or a refusal to.

I wonder which one is worse.

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