Effective Communication: A Strategy for Coping

Layoffs, reorganizations, takeovers, and closings caused by a wounded economy are having a profound effect on organizations throughout the nation. In a trickle-down manner, the effects reach far beyond these organizations to social services, government, and non-profit agencies.

Throughout this dynamically changing environment, one of the hardest hit casualties is effective communication. The key work here is “effective.” Simply stated, the reality of effective communication has been lost in the shuffle as organizations struggle to deal with rapid changes.

The effects of these rapid changes have resulted in the emergence of two basic approaches to organizational communication practiced by a significant number of organizations. Unfortunately, neither is effective; in fact, these approaches could be, over time, potentially destructive.

There is no more effective method for improving customer relations, management-labor support, team building, quality, and overall productivity than by giving the company’s internal and external communications program a tune-up.

Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman refers to the first approach as the “Quality Theory of Communication.” The second has been named the “Mushroom Prescription.”

Quantity Theory vs. The Mushroom Prescription

The Quantity Theory holds that the more communication the better. Here the clear emphasis is on quantity with little regard for content, direction, image, and the dangers of mixed signals. The measure of merit is the ability of the organization to approach the edge of communication excess without falling in. Unfortunately most do.

  1. The Quantity Theory suggests that by providing as much information as possible in a period of dynamic and rapid change, people (numerous audiences) will feel more confident and in control. There is also hope that the company’s audiences will trust the company more. The result will be greater productivity and support.
  2. The antithesis of the Quantity Theory is the Mushroom Prescription. This communication approach is heavily slanted to keep the audience in the dark while feeding them fertilizer. Practitioners of the Mushroom Prescription feel that their audiences would only be confused by informing them during a continually changing environment. Their idea of effective communication is to wait until the “dust settles” (at some later date) before updating people on the situation.

The real concern is that practitioners of both methods genuinely believe they are accomplishing their communication goals and are adequately informing their internal and external audiences. As mentioned earlier, neither approach is effective. The first performs like a pyromaniac in a world of straw men while the second is like old wallpaper, always there but rarely noticed.

Building a Roadmap for Effective Communication

Fortunately, there is an uncomplicated, inexpensive, and proven procedure for determining an organization’s most effective communications program during dynamic periods as described above. This method is a communications audit – a complete communications “physical” that can lead to a balanced and very effective communications program.

Alice Roosevelt Longsworth once remarked, “I have a simple philosophy. Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full and scratch where it itches.” That is precisely what an audit can help accomplish for any organization’s communications program.

The Communications Audit

The audit looks at an organization’s goals and objectives, the kinds of messages exchanged the effectiveness of different media and whether the purpose of communication is being achieved.

When fully supported by top management, a communications audit can determine where an organization’s communications program is weak. It can also show what works, why and with what retention level.

The Major Components


  1. Internal research to determine how the organization feels about itself. (Interviews and /or focus groups with top management and line workers.)
  2. External research to determine what other audiences feel about the organization (interviews, surveys and focus groups with outside audiences such as customers, subcontractors, industry observers, trade media, etc.).
  3. Products and methods research to determine effectiveness of current communications tools (brochures, news releases, article placements, events, etc.) and tactics (press conferences, editorial boards, employee meetings, etc.).


The goal is to provide an integrated analysis of the above research that leads to development of a new communications plan tuned to the dynamics of the organization’s specific arena.

Effective communication means keeping pace with a changing environment. A communications audit can make a major contribution to the goals and objectives of every organization when challenged by a new environment.


Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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