“Perception is Reality”  

Issue 1

By:  Ron Brounes  

May 1997


Last year, The Houston Rockets made a blockbuster trade to obtain Charles Barkley from the Phoenix Suns.  As a die hard Rockets fan, I can honestly say that, at the time, I looked at that trade with some skepticism.  While I knew that Barkley was a great ballplayer in his day, I had several concerns based on my negative PERCEPTIONS of him as a player and as a person.  I couldn’t help but think about the Barkley who spit on a fan during a ballgame.  Or the Barkley who constantly fought with other players.  Or the Barkley who always yelled at referees.  Or the oft injured Barkley who may have very well been past his prime.  Well one regular basketball season later, I find myself eating my every word and pretty down on myself as both a judge of human character and sports talent.  Barkley has been a true “dream” to the city.  (Unfortunately that nickname is already taken.)  His play on the court and attitude off the court has been an inspiration to his teammates as well as the community as a whole.  My perceptions about Barkley could not have been further from reality, and yet, like so many others in the city (you know who you are) I was ready to criticize him, without even giving him a chance.  I must apologize to Sir Charles for jumping to such rash judgements about him; I allowed my negative perceptions to cloud my judgements. 


The point is, no matter who we are, in every facet of our daily lives (social, business, political), the way we are perceived by our target markets (friends, customers, constituents) may not always be accurate. PERCEPTION IS REALITY, even when it’s wrong.  All of us are guilty of making rash judgements based on ridiculous observations and occurrences: physical appearances, an inaccurate news story, rumors, etc.  And once those perceptions have surfaced, they are not very easily removed.  This holds true in our personal lives, as well as with our businesses.  Our jobs are to effectively communicate our desired messages so that such perceptions are indeed true, and thus, “truth becomes reality.”




In creating a positive message, particularly in the business world, the entire staff must all be on the same page.  Management and employees must understand the ultimate company goals and must work together to communicate and achieve them.  A client of mine recently approached me to help design a marketing plan to increase sales at his organization.  After learning about the ultimate company message from the president, I proceeded to interview a few of his management underlings as well as some other employees to get a better understanding of the focus of the firm.  To my surprise, everyone that I interviewed had an entirely different perception of the message the company was trying to communicate.  The president had never obtained feedback from his employees; the employees had never offered suggestions to management.  Effective communication within the organization must take precedent before any external marketing plan can ever be enacted.  Management and employees of any organization must be looked upon as foot soldiers, and thus, the most effective messengers a company can have. 




Once those negative perceptions have reared their ugly heads, there is little that can be done to change them.  Many a public company has suffered a dramatic drop in stock price over an unfortunate rumor about the industry or false news report.  Many a politician has been forced to drop out of a race because of inaccurate perceptions of their views on issues, or even nasty negative campaigning from an opponent.  A political candidate I once worked with got word that an opponent of hers was primed to bash her stand on a particular controversial issue.  Instead of waiting to go on the defensive to potentially angry voters, she went public with her position and was able to best explain her views with practical reasoning.  This proactive move undoubtedly helped sway a few voters who may not have fully understood the issue. The key to effective message development is telling your audience what you want them to hear before any other information has the chance to surface.  Positive messages create positive perceptions.




Often times, you have no choice but to react to negative or inaccurate messages.  Unfortunately, mere reactions often come across as excuse making or belly aching.  Don’t simply tell your side of the story to audiences who may have already made up their minds.  You must always put some positive spin on the situation by proposing and implementing a plan to prevent such an unfortunate situation from ever occurring again, thus, turning a negative into a positive.  A company I worked with was being sued by a customer over the sale of some faulty product.  While the incident was fairly insignificant in terms of monetary consequences, they knew that once the word  hit the papers, the perceptions among other customers would be quite damaging.  They did not even attempt to counter the claims within the press but chose to instead announce the implementation of a new comprehensive compliance standard designed to prevent such an occurrence in the future.  This plan was among the first in the industry and was viewed as a positive step.  Ultimately their suit was settled, and more importantly their action resulted in additional business.


Jumping to conclusions is an unfortunate aspect of human nature.  Once negative perceptions have arisen, they are not easily replaced.  Since perceptions are indeed reality, we must all work to ensure that we are perceived in an accurate and positive fashion.  Charles Barkley created an effective marketing campaign to convince me that he is a positive influence both on and off the court.  He let his talent do the talking on the court and his positive words and actions in the form of community service speak off the court.  Thanks to him, the Rockets are well on their way to a third Championship.  And I don’t plan on eating these words.  


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a  publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. I hope you  enjoy this inaugural issue and will continue to read them in the future.  Subsequent issues can be delivered in any manner most convenient to you: e-mail, fax, express mail, personal delivery, read over the phone,  etc.  Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information and to inform us of the best method of delivery.  If I do not hear from you, I will continue to send future issues via mail.