I work a lot with PR agencies, on big, corporate accounts. Together we go through sophisticated strategies, editorial calendars, brainstorming, measurement and so on, and slowly we help these great leviathans become more agile and approachable through communications.
But sometimes I see something and it’s so different from my day-to-day work that it reminds me what great communication is about. It’s about being human.
So today, I received a circular from a local restaurant I visited a while back, called La Chouette. It’s a strange place, based in a tiny village in Bucks, run by a wildly eccentric Belgian called Frédéric. He does have some online information, not least a video that… well, just watch it below, and you’ll get a flavour of the place and, more importantly, the man. (You can skip the bit about the cooking, but make sure you watch the last part. It’s priceless.)
See what I mean? Take your Gordon Ramsays, your Jamie Olivers, your Hugh Fearnley-Zinc-Trumpet-Harrison-Baden-Baden-De-La-Plume-De-Ma-Tente-Whittingstalls, and, as Frédéric says, piss off. He’d eat them for dinner.
When we arrived we were the only people there. It was the kind of situation that could have been excruciatingly embarrassing (for an Englishman anyway, but we’re good at being embarrassed, it’s a national sp0rt). But no. Frédéric helped us choose the wine (he looked a little annoyed that we didn’t know whether to go for red or white), disappeared to rustle up the (delicious) food, then chatted to us – and not just chatted, he expounded, he fl0urished, he shouted and bellowed, laughed and cursed, and waved his arms around a lot.
We liked him, and signed up for his newsletter.
All of which brings me to the real point of this post. I’m looking at the newsletter now. Here are some choice extracts, complete with spelling and grammar hiccups. Imagine them spoken in an uncompromisingly Belgian accent with an undertow of belligerence:
- “Do not forget Valentine day, this year it fall on Monday the 14 of February, so Gentlemen, DO NOT forget or you will end up in the dog house. It does happen to me every years, I know what I am talking about.”
- “You should come with that special person for a Romantic Evening… candles, a little light jazz music and abuses from your host, Peeerfect indeed.”
- “Blues evening, those are getting rarer, I think that I am just getting old.”
- “Philippe will be back to tell us about another part of France. I have heard that a lot of woman are really found of Philippe, I don’t know why… He is French for Christ sake!”
So, as a professional communicator, spot the mistakes. Not just the spelling and grammar, but references to being abused, xenophobia, and age. Would you do this on behalf of your client?
Of course you wouldn’t. Imagine doing something like this for Cisco, or Shell, or pretty much any client you’d care to name. It’s also – get this – not even online. It’s a photocopied letter, delivered through snail mail. How quaint.
But do you want to go there? Do you think it might be fun to meet this guy? Does he come across as a bland non-entity, or as someone passionate about what he does?
In short, do you respond to him as a human being? I do. And while I don’t tend to ‘do’ valentines – by common consent with my partner – simply by sending me the newsletter he’s reminded me that I’d really like to go back there sometime, maybe on a nice spring day, jump in the Spitfire, rock around to Westlington Green, and be abused.
So look around. ‘Professional’ communications can become boring, and if you’re bored, it shows. Inspiration can be everywhere, and when you find it, it’s wonderfully refreshing.
I cannot improve on Frédéric’s final words in the video:
“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”