Why ‘Polyphony’ May Be The New Black In Communications

This is this first of a five part series on the European Communications Monitor (ECM), sponsored by Ketchum.  The ECM is one of the largest surveys of communications professionals in the world, run by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA), the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) and Communication DirectorMagazine, drew data from more than 2000 participants in 42 countries.
Few professions embrace fashionable jargon like PR.

We leverage, synergize and optimize like nobody’s business. We look for paradigm shifts and win-win scenarios while socializing the next big idea, occasionally settling for low-hanging fruit or double-clicking on a notion to get some buy-in. After all, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be left filling the plastic cup with yesterday’s news.

So you can imagine my delight in discovering what could very well become the new black in this year’s line-up of trendy business terms: polyphony.

Technically, it’s a music term, but it may better describe what’s going on in corporate communications today than the way we usually talk about our work: harmonization, in which we see ourselves as orchestrators, striving to get everyone to play the same tune, tone and notes.

In polyphony – think medieval fugues – two or more independent musical parts can be combined to form a coherent musical entity. The result can sound pretty nice, and in communications, might offer a more accurate and authentic voice to how institutions and brands actually express themselves.

The use of polyphony in our world was first used by a group of Scandinavian communications researchers here. Their view was that instead of synchronizing and harmonizing communications, organizations should allow more diverse, complex and even ambiguous voices when shaping their image.

Some recent research sponsored by Ketchum hints that they may be on to something. Among many interesting findings from the ECM, their work suggests that polyphony may indeed be the new norm.

Take a few key data points:

  • Nearly 82% of respondents say they have more public touch points than five years ago
  • 74% say their overall voice is created by all organizational members interacting with their stakeholders
  • 43% say they have less control over messages than ever before
  • And near 60% say they communicate different perceptions of the organizations separately in different stakeholder relationships

To be honest, I think this has always been the case – that the idea of harmony or orchestration was an illusion or an aspiration. But whether polyphony is a new development or simply a new way to discuss what has always been going on, it might point the way to clearer, better communications approaches. We can recognize the reality that we’re perceived through many different channels and filters, many beyond our control or even awareness. Rather than trying to call the tune ourselves, we can focus on enabling others to do so.

So, polyphony.  Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it.