Monday, June 21, 2004

Door-in-Face Persuasion 

It has long been said that there are two forms of selling -- foot in door and door in face. Foot in the door is push selling -- advertising, publicity and face-to-face persuasion. Door in the face is exclusive selling -- holding off the consumer until the consumer is deemed worthy of being catered to.

Similar principles hold true in PR. But, exclusivity is not what we mean by door-in-face. What we mean is that we communicate a message that we know might hurt or upset some who listen to it. Usually only a CEO gives these kinds of messages. They are often about downsizings, mergers, restructurings, management turnover and other unpleasant topics that employees don't want to hear but must.

There are instances, however, in which one lets matters take a course and consumers come to their own conclusions. This is what is happening with fuel prices, for example. We can cajole all we want about conservation, but the quickest way to fuel savings is to let gasoline rise over $2.50 a gallon. And increasingly, that is the way some in the energy industry see as the only realistic course to get Americans to change out of Hummers and SUVs into practical and fuel-efficient vehicles.

We rarely use door-in-face persuasion in our work, but sometimes we should. I can think of one instance. The obnoxious, bullying journalist who won't take no for an answer and badgers one endlessly can use door-in-face discipline. These individuals hate "no." But, if one gives a juicy tidbit of news to a competitor first, the bully gets the idea that a hard edge won't work with you. And if the journalist doesn't learn, one cuts the reporter out completely until he or she does. One can't always do this, but one should never be afraid to try. The problem is that too many PR practitioners and CEOs quail before bullies.

Door-in-face persuasion is a valid technique. Use it with care.


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