9 communication lessons from Halloween candy

Wait! Before you gulp down another handful of Skittles or Whoppers, consider the lessons they offer, from authenticity to pizzazz in your messaging. Here’s a sampler.

Uh-oh. It’s candy season again.

Offices everywhere will soon overflow with Halloween treats. Bowls of belly-expanding treats will tempt us from desktops and in breakrooms.

Furthermore, starting Nov. 1, co-workers who overstocked on jumbo bags of sweets will be hauling in enough goodies to rot the teeth of an army of marauding Visigoths.

Several publications—among them The Cut, The Federalist and Thrillist—have ranked their favorite Halloween candies. These writers get bonus points for their truculent likes and dislikes. (“Here’s The Only Completely Correct Ranking Of Halloween Candy,” asserts The Federalist.)

Rank your candy tastes any way you like. We at Ragan step it up and draw salient communication lessons from pillowcases full of half-squashed sweets.

Just in time for Halloween, we present a list of candy-inspired pointers to guide communication pros.

1. Whoppers.

None of the candy-rankers cared much for these. The Federalist calls them, “The perfect option for those who love tasting chocolate, savoring malt, and chewing sandpaper.”

No wonder. If your PR team responds to a crisis with outright whoppers—or even just spin—you’re only going to make matters worse. As Edelman’s Richard Edelman, once said, “We have to act as the corporate conscience.” That means telling the truth.

2. PayDay.

“Are PayDays kind of a grandpa candy?” scoffs Thrillist. “Yeah. Are they an underrated explosion of salty peanuts, nougat and caramel? Absolutely.”

Hmmm. As a grandpa myself, I’m ready to get out my walker and hobble over to HR to complain about that ageist description. But still, if your workforce slogs in every day for nothing but the paycheck, you’ve got your work cut out for you in terms of internal engagement. When poor engagement haunts your workplace, try these tips, or consider exorcising those ghosts and goblins with guidance gleaned from a Ragan conference.

3. Werther’s Original.

Often parodied as a treat for oldsters due to the combination of dated commercials and diabolical meme-makers, Werther’s stands as a warning, suggests Ragan.com editor Robby Brumberg. “Be wary of ageism,” he admonishes.

He’s talking to you, Thrillist.

4. Skittles.

“Of all the paths to a root canal, this is the most colorful,” The Federalist enthuses.

No doubt this—along with innumerable exhortations about diversity these days—are what moved Brumberg to draw this lesson from these multicolored, discus-shaped sugar drops: “Be more inclusive.”

5. Pop Rocks.

Described by its maker as the planet’s No. 1-selling popping candy, these oral IEDs suggest a pizzazz that is often missing in corporate comms.

“They cater to different audiences,” my Ragan colleague Brad Campbell says. “Kids think they’re fun. Some adults love the nostalgia, and others use them on the rim of a cocktail as noisy garnish or flair. Also, come on—it’s Pop Rocks.”

6. Reese’s.

“She got marketing on my internal comms!” says Kristin Farmer, Ragan Communications’ vice president of sales and marketing.

“He got internal comms on my marketing!”

What better way, she asks, to suggest the blurring of internal and external—and of PR and comms—than Reese’s blend of chocolate and peanut butter?

For his part, PR Daily editor Ted Kitterman finds in Reese’s an agent-client simile. “Work with a partner like chocolate works with peanut butter,” he urges.

7. Candy corn.

“Not everyone will like you, and that’s OK,” says Jacqueline Kiley, Ragan marketing and communications coordinator. “Stay true to your organization, and don’t change your values for others. (I’m looking at you, Sour Patch Kids Candy Corn.)”

Others agree about Sour Patch Kids Candy Corn: “Hideous,” shrieks The Cut. “‘BOO!’ indeed.”

Thrillist says Halloweenishly of Sour Patch Kids, “The whole cannibalism angle is really fun, but at the end of the day these remind me of Swedish Fish rolled in sugar and sour stuff.”

Not a good tone for your newsletter.

8. Peanut M&M’s and Peanut Butter M&M’s.

In communications and candy alike, go for authenticity. Candy-coated peanuts? Yum. Candy-coated peanut butter? Leave that to Reese’s.

Most communicators these days are striving to encourage authenticity through video, earn employees’ confidence and create a high-trust culture.

9. Saltwater taffy and butterscotch hard candies.

“Just because it’s been out there since the beginning of time doesn’t mean you have to keep handing it out,” Farmer says. “Change is good.”

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