Horses to Water
A distant relative of mine, Henry McCarty, once said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” As much as that adage applies to horses (and especially mules, as one would assume) it’s equally applicable to people. Some people are so set in their ways, that no matter how irrefutable the evidence of their wrong-headedness presented to them is, they refuse to change. I realize this is hardly breaking news as stubbornness is an obstacle in all facets of daily life, but as the roles of advertising and public relations continue to overlap, it’s become an impediment to accomplishing the common goal of both practices: establishing beneficial relationships between organizations and stakeholders. Therefore, I find myself questioning whether attempts to change obstinate minds are really worth the effort.
My moment of doubt came this past Saturday when Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s Head of Social Media, posted a link on Twitter to a New York Times piece that was actually optimistic about Detroit’s future. Not long thereafter, however, Mr. Monty followed up, registering his dismay at “how many coastal elites live in denial or ignorance,” as evidenced by the comments left in response to the Times’ story. The takeaway was that the American auto industry can’t catch a break from the bailout haters on the right or the Detroit bashers on the left.
So if you’re Ford and you’ve just unveiled the new Explorer which radically departs from all previous Explorers, how do you bring these people around to your side? I asked Mr. Monty as much, his answer being, “The way we do it: keep making world-class products that are best-in-class in quality, fuel economy, safety and technology. ” (For the record, it was Mr. Monty who omitted the Oxford comma and added the emoticon.) My thoughts were that, yes, I know where Ford excels, but I’m a gearhead; what about people who think the bailout was the first step towards President Obama becoming Generalissimo Obama, or those who consider buying domestic as tantamount to clubbing baby seals?
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a bit of a car guy, so it stands to reason that this particular issue would get my hackles up, but the reputational problems faced by the American auto industry are the same as faced by any other industry or individual organization: the world is full of the willfully ignorant and habitually stubborn and they’ll always have an axe to grind, no matter what. So what can you do about them? For my wholly unqualified two cents, I say nothing. The best one can do is to forge relationships with stakeholders who are predisposed to be on one’s side, while reaching out to the potential stakeholders who retain some objectivity. In fact, it’s the very word “objectivity” that distinguishes potential stakeholders from those who just aren’t worth the tsuris.
I’ve no doubt plenty of people disagree with my assessment, but from where I’m sitting, when it comes to relationship building, an organization would derive more value from pursuing and making the most out of realistic prospects, rather than trying to convert strident non-believers. After all, as cousin Henry said to a reporter after one of his many arrests, “What’s the use of looking on the gloomy side of everything?”