Trylon Communications  - September 2003

Great Expectations

A common problem that public relations people need to address is the failure of companies to live up to expectations on a project or initiative. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “Delusions of Success,” authors Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman discussed how optimism can undermine executives’ decisions. What can a PR firm do to proactively defuse a situation before it explodes?

Examples abound of major initiatives that just didn’t pan out. During the planning process, executives tend to emphasize the benefits and minimize the risks. Whether to further a political agenda, satisfy shareholders or soothe egos, this tendency can place the company in jeopardy when initiatives do not proceed as planned.

One reason why executives tend to emphasize the positives is that everyone tends to exaggerate his or her own skills. While we are quick to take credit for business successes, we tend to blame outside circumstances for failures and missteps.

The authors make a distinction between the inside view and the outside view of any situation. The inside view comes from the executives and project managers, and can be overly optimistic due to organizational pressures, the desire to minimize competitive challenges, or simple cognitive biases.

An outside view, on the other hand, tends to be more objective and rational. The traditional approach to major initiatives is to adopt the inside view. After all, who knows their business more than the people who run it?

This is where objective outside opinions expressed by PR firms can be very helpful. By framing it in the context of future media placements, PR pros can help mold and craft the announcements of new projects or initiatives in ways that bring a touch of reality and objectivity to what could otherwise result in overly rosy projected outcomes.

The next time you are looking to announce a major new project, gain the advantage of some outside opinions. Use these to form messaging that can include the upside while providing some breathing room for future announcements regarding future activities and achievements. You will be ahead in the long run.