Human brain and smart phone

How The Official Telephone Answerer changed my brain


I feel our message, research and work is important, helping to redefine what it means to be an effective leader or a high-functioning organisation. But not specialising in marketing, it seemed it might be a good idea to contact a few PR companies to learn a little about how they worked, what they achieve and whether one of them might be a good fit for our values and aspirations.

Being a sucker for a cool brand and a well-designed, high-ranking website (clearly they’re doing something right), I started with one which I won’t name but might hint at – the name might be said to describe the current US political landscape, but let’s not judge them by that – I’m sure they just liked the imagery and alliteration.

Confident I was on the right path, I called the Brisbane office and asked if there was someone I could talk to start a conversation. The Official Phone Answerer told me that I should speak to the managing director, but that she was out of the office and “I’ll give you her e-mail address and she’ll get back to you.”

“Pardon?”, I said in disbelief. “So – actually, don’t worry about it.”

“What do you mean?” The Official Phone Answerer inquired, apparently also in disbelief.

“Well, it seems to me that if your version of PR is to not take a message when a potential customer makes an inquiry, then that’s not really the sort of approach that fits with our values.”

Remember, it’s not as if they decided that we are not a golden opportunity for them – The Official Telephone Answerer didn’t ask my name or business name. I could have been Malcolm Turnbull looking for some advice on how to connect with voters, or Alan Joyce wondering how to get some mileage from a pie in the face, or the President of the Russian Athletics Federation wanting to talk about the many ways that the word “multivitamin” might be harmlessly re-interpreted. OK, there’s a few accents involved there, but still, the point remains – I could have been anybody or nobody.

“But she’s not in the office today, so I can’t get hold of her!”, The Official Telephone Answerer responded incredulously.

“That’s no problem”, I responded, “But the standard of service we believe in is one where someone would take a message and pass it on to her.”

The Official Telephone Answerer went quiet at this weird idea. It seemed to be very new to her. She took a moment to digest it, and then responded by remaining silent. I helped her out of her discomfort.

“No problem, thanks for your time. Bye.” Aha! That seemed to put The Official Telephone Answerer back on script, responding with something sincere about thanking me for calling and wishing me a nice day.

At this stage of an article it would be normal to demonstrate my genius by listing some dos and don’ts about answering phones, outsourcing calls, living a brand message and so on, but if you’ve read this far you already know that stuff as well as I do.

From a neuro perspective however, there is a little lesson here – my brain was open to new knowledge and new experiences, and happy to have new circuitry shaped by it. I was ready to trust, and to pay for doing so. My brain was probably at its most plastic state outside of emotional trauma. 

What did it learn intuitively? Probably that the PR agency that names itself after a colour and a political system is not likely to value me or my message, and that it does not share my values so is more likely to harm my preferred brand image than enhance it. In having my values violated my brain went from feeling safe to feeling threatened – and reacted accordingly by moving me away from that threat. (I do still like their logo and website design though.) 

And there’s more. Because my brain has to simplify in order to cope with the complexity of the world, it also makes me more wary of other PR Agencies than I otherwise might have been – in my ignorance my brain wants to stereotype them. Do they all treat potential customers with similar contempt? Do any of them share, or even understand, my values? Are any of them likely to be committed to helping me to achieve my goals? How much time and money am I likely to waste before feeling I was being taken for a ride? How many have modelled themselves on Absolutely Fabulous? The whole lot of them are probably dodgy! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!!!

But there is an upside – knowing that the intuitive part of my brain wants to take me in that direction allows me to choose to take a more rational approach. I will find out more and will be open to what they have to say – but the circuitry that was created (or perhaps triggered – this is getting deep now) is still going to be switched on whether I like it or not, so my caution will be higher and my openness a little less so. Who knows, by elevating my brain’s safety-circuitry awareness level when it comes to PR agencies, The Official Telephone Answerer might have done me a favour.

Let’s see how the next call goes….

Human brain and smart phone

Human brain and smart phone

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