While a lot of what each group does is very different, one of the core things that broadcasters and lawyers both do is communicate in a very unique way. Both groups don’t just communicate; we communicate our messages to a diverse group of people, needing each person who receives our message to (1) perceive that message as a one-to-one personal appeal and (2) be willing to listen to, absorb, and accept our message.
That’s not easy to do, and that’s why we spend a lifetime perfecting our ability to communicate. Luckily, we are provided with lessons we can learn from constantly. Sometimes, we learn by observing communication done well.
Sometimes, however, the best lessons are of the “What Not To Do” variety. Last week, I got a great example of what not to do when a political candidate robocalled me.
Full disclosure: I’ve used telemarketing calls in the broadcasting business many times, so I don’t have the immediate negative reaction to robocalls that many people do. This message, however, was such a good example of how not to communicate with an audience that I felt compelled to transcribe it and offer some thoughts on how the call could have been better executed.
The italicized portion of this post is the transcription of the message. In an effort to protect the identity of the “accused”, I’ve redacted the personally identifying information from the transcription and resisted posting the audio from the call. As you can imagine, the candidate’s delivery was little more inspired than his script.
Hello Folks, this is <candidate’s name>, and I’m runnin’ for <office>.
Okay, who is this Folks person, and why, Mr. Candidate, are you directing his phone calls to me? The point is this: yes, you’re making robocalls. You’re addressing a large audience, and you can’t address each individual recipient of your message by name.
Those facts, however, are no excuse for impersonally treating each recipient as though she or he is part of a faceless mass. The message could have easily been crafted to at least avoid placing each listener at a distance by simply eliminating one word: folks.
Said differently, “Hello, I’m Derv Garfschmidt,” is a greeting that I can believe was personally intended for me. “Hello Folks, I’m Derv Garfschmidt,” places me as a faceless member of a larger group of listeners and isn’t personal to me.
First, I’d like to apologize that this is a pre-recorded message, but the reason why is we have approximately 95,000 voters to contact and this is most efficient way and the least expensive way to, um, contact voters in our towns.
Great. The candidate has just said that he understands that he’s doing something his intended listener objects to. However, he’s essentially telling the listener, it’s okay for him to do so because he’s addressed his needs – to inconvenience the listener and 94,999 other people and to do it in a way that saves him the most money possible – at the expense of the listener’s presumed desire to be left alone.
It’s self-evident that, when you want something – in this case, a vote – from someone, telling that someone that you are prioritizing your needs ahead of theirs needs is exactly the wrong tack to take. Rather than addressing the listener’s needs or desires, the candidate is effectively saying, “You’re less important than I am, and I’m making things easier and cheaper on me, rather than considering your wishes. Vote for me anyway.”
Um, I would ask that you would consider votin’ for me, um, on November 2nd,
Here we are at the most important juncture of the message: the place where the candidate asks for “the order”, here the listener’s vote. Given that this is a pre-recorded message, it’s remarkable that the candidate didn’t feel the need to take the time to better communicate his ultimate message in a manner befitting an official elected to a fairly prominent office.
If you’re going to ask for a vote, doesn’t it make sense to take the time to re-voice this crucial request in a manner that sounds confident, rather than letting your prospective customers – or voters, if you prefer – hear you stumbling through a couple “uhs”? Similarly, while we all use casual language in everyday discourse, there are some times when it just makes sense to use proper English. I can’t think of a better time than when one is asking another person to place their confidence in them in a serious matter.
[A]nd please visit my website which is , and if you have any questions, here’s my personal e-mail, it’s and this call is paid for by my campaign, the <candidate’s name> State Assembly campaign, and again, I’d be grateful if you’d consider casting your vote on November 2nd for me.
While giving out his personal e-mail address is a nice touch, how believable is the solicitation for personal contact, given that the candidate has already depersonalized the listener by blurting out that the listener is one of a faceless mass of 95,000 people? My guess is, not very.
Okay. Have a good day. Thank you.
This might be the part of the call where hearing it would really help you fully appreciate this observation, but the dismissiveness of “Okay”, which translates roughly as, “Okay, I’m done with this chore. What chore do I have to complete next so I can win this election?” is another remarkable moment when it becomes clear that the candidate has painfully placed his motivations ahead of the listener’s.
At the end of the call, here’s what we’re left with:
- A depersonalizing introduction
- A half-hearted “apology” for interrupting the listener’s day combined with an explanation that the disruption is necessary to meet the candidate’s needs
- An “ask” that the candidate didn’t consider important enough to take the time to re-record and edit so that the listener hears him sounding confident and slick.
- A dubious solicitation for personal contact.
- A dismissive conclusion.
There is one thing we aren’t left with in the call: anything telling the listener why she or he should vote for the candidate. Perhaps devoting some, or most, of the 47 seconds that the robocall took to complete to that information would have been more constructive.