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Why is it difficult in Trinidad and Tobago?

This article will not provide you with answers to the increased standard of living in our country. It will not provide you with the answers to our employment situation, our crime rate, or the instability of our political climate. It cannot provide you with a reason why our nationals outside of our country are being allowed to enter our borders on a schedule. Above all, this article cannot provide an answer to the barrels of fuel allegedly sold to Aruba and then provided to the Venezuelan government. If we had an answer to these questions, we would have published facts over fiction.

The question we want to answer:

Why is it difficult to communicate in Trinidad and Tobago?

There is a good chance that answers to the questions above, may have been communicated already. Have we listened? Did we understand? How have we responded?

Let us consider some reasons why we communicate:

· We communicate to inform, educate and entertain;

· We communicate to change behaviours;

· We communicate to express an idea, a thought or a concept.

When we communicate we usually do so through multiple mediums. The theory of seven suggests that when we communicate, we do so as if everyone was seven years old. It’s not a method by which we communicate down to others, but rather an opportunity to communicate in an interesting, clear and simple way. Seven-year-olds also learn through repetition, and we would have seen this in practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press Conferences were held almost every day, and the same was information repeated daily. We have also seen the same information in different formats. It may have been presented in print, on radio, on television, on websites and on social media.

On average it takes society approximately two months to adopt new behaviours. In the face of a worldwide pandemic where information has been changing regularly, new behaviours had to be adopted as accurate information became available. In alignment with the theory of seven, practice does not make perfect, but rather practice makes permanent. These practices were communicated from credible sources to get society to action behaviours as soon as possible. Even though there was an overload of COVID-19 related information, there are still citizens who continue to disobey the Stay at Home Order. Why has it been so difficult to get the minority of Trinidad and Tobago to comply?

Communication professionals would have seen both success and failure in their strategies. Failure is not easily accepted by anyone who would have followed all the guidelines from a textbook. Communication strategies may be successful with one audience, but may not be effective with another. There are some external factors that can easily influence the effectiveness of a strategy. This can range from culture, norms, religious backgrounds, education and historical context. All of which play a crucial role in a successful communication campaign in Trinidad and Tobago. Getting it right in our country is very difficult. In this article, we will provide you with some theories that challenge communicators and you can let us know if you agree or disagree.

The Nine Day Political Mentality

Many talk show hosts have spoken about this phenomenon in Trinidad and Tobago. We thrive on a single issue for a short period of time, until another takes the limelight. The pandemic puts us in a very uncomfortable position. Public perception is difficult to change, as the treatment of COVID-19 has been the primary concern of all citizens. Politicians and powerful businessmen often use this phenomenon at their advantage. It is used as a mechanism to distract the population from a pending decision. The strategy to distract the population in Trinidad and Tobago has been successful. Once the distraction is introduced into the headlines, word of mouth propels the public discussion beyond the main issue. It is difficult to get our people to focus and take action on multiple issues at the same time. For most of us, when two topics are in view, it diminishes our capacity to objectively list the pros and cons.

Cultural & Religious Diversity

If you choose communications as your career, you may have watched a lot of shows whereby public relations was the centre of the drama. The speeches and tactics used to develop stakeholder relationships were ground-breaking. You may have envisioned yourself as the professional who can stand at a podium and be able to speak words with conviction to a mass audience in the face of a crisis. In Trinidad and Tobago, this may prove to be a challenge as opposed to the shows on Netflix that made it seem effortless.

Our history has made us a culturally diverse Caribbean country. As a result, our households have several different beliefs and practices. It is easier to offend a minority in Trinidad and Tobago, than it is in other parts of the world. Communicators have to be extremely careful when they address stakeholders. We represent a wide range of people. Often, a speech will never single out a particular denomination because there is a chance that you may omit one particular group or sub-group that may be present.

In Trinidad and Tobago’s recent history we were able to host the Summit of the Americas (2009) and the Caribbean Heads of Government Meeting (2009). At these two meetings, we had to communicate an opening ceremony that reflected the rich culture of our country to the world. The opening ceremonies were approximately thirty minutes in length. Brain MacFarlane was given the task of representing our cultural diversity through song, dance, and art. It was not without criticism, as it was argued that some cultural sectors were not sufficiently represented. The opening ceremonies were spectacular. It gives an insight into the several cultural perspectives we share on this small island.

Our Textbooks and Our Education

Who is propagating Caribbean Communications? Often, our professionals have very limited options to pursue their communications careers locally. Most of the degrees and masters are delivered with the use of foreign case studies and text books. The certification is often offered from universities that reside in the United States or in Europe. Many of the concepts that are learnt are expected to be applied in every society across the globe. Our country is so diverse; communicators adapt what they have learnt to receive the results their clients want.

Caribbean Civilization is a foundation course offered at the University of the West Indies. The course gives insight into the identity of Caribbean people. It teaches that Caribbean students speak two languages, Standard English and the dialect or basilect from their specific region. How often do we use our dialect in official communication? It is still seen as a poor form of language. The language that we are accustomed to may prove to be effective to get a message across.

Memes that are created on Social Media has a lot of organic traction. The language and imagery are very simple. Companies have adopted this in their marketing strategies, and are criticized for being distasteful. How distasteful can it be, if they are getting the results that they want? A Company that hinges its profits on its marketing strategies will not discontinue a method if it yields results. Our memes are notorious for commenting on the social and political landscape in Trinidad and Tobago. Following a news story, it takes a matter of minutes for a meme to go viral across all online networks. It embodies our culture, our norms, and our language and thus easily understood and accepted by many for its simplicity.

Case Example: One of our clients ‘Souped Up’ referred to their soup as ‘Fish Broff’ as opposed to Fish ‘Broth’. We advise them to keep the name. We still have several supporters ‘correcting’ us online that we misspelt a word. We choose to refer to the soup using the local vernacular to better appeal to our target audience.

Volatile and Litigious Society

We are experts at everything. The ease of access to information makes everyone an expert on any topic. This access to information makes it easy to offend anyone who may accept what is seen on a screen as fact. The reality is that with one proposition there is an equally convincing argument that opposes any view.

It is easy to offend anyone in today’s world of seven billion experts on any topic. As communicators, you may have had encounters with legal professionals who would have advised you not to comment or release information that should be said. They are the gatekeepers of the precautionary principle. They are fearful of risk and understand where the law can work in your favour or against it. You may not find a legal professional who may be willing to meet you halfway, as communicators have been taught to speak the truth. We are often not interested in concealing the facts, but rather take a transparent and accountable approach to company issues. We are often faced with a brick wall, but it is important to stand your ground and express your view with the strongest ethical arguments.

Spoon Feed Me!

Our society is highly dependent on others to bring success and stability to their doorsteps. This has been promoted in our governments to win elections by landslides. Rarely would you find a politician standing on a podium stating that its people are not entitled to anything. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been provided with free education, free laptops and free health care. These may have changed in recent times, but it’s a culture that is propagated and accepted.

Trinidad and Tobago for example is one of the few Caribbean countries that have been able to access relief from their government during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has taken the form of Salary Relief, Rental Relief and Food Card distribution. The government even took it a step further by allocating millions of dollars to be delivered in tranches to religious organizations to fund their relief efforts. It has been argued that as an oil-rich nation, the resources are the patrimony of the people. Thus, citizens should reap the benefits.

This dependency has transposed itself into how we treat with important communication. The society has been described as complacent as new infections of COVID-19 has now ceased for over one month. Despite this, we still rely on word of mouth as opposed to reading the news ourselves. How many of us can truly see we were able to watch every press conference, read every release and listen to every discussion on the progression of COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago? Or are we simply waiting for breaking news when the Stay at Home Order restrictions has been fully lifted so we can carry on with our lives? There may be several people who may not agree with our thoughts on the challenges we face as communicators in the Caribbean.

If you share an opposing or similar view, we would gladly publish your response on our blog! Your opinion is valuable to us. Send us your thoughts to We look forward to hearing from you soon.

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