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Hide and seek: communications for the curious

If curiosity killed the cat, then there were a lot of dead felines at the Chelsea Flower Show recently. And why? The brilliant Antithesis of a Sarcophagi garden exhibit designed by sculptors Gary Breeze and Martin Cook; a block of granite concealing within its monolithic maw a beautifully planted garden – only evident through a few tiny viewing holes.

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Anything to see here?
The genius of this exhibit made fine work of one of the oldest tricks in the book – delayed gratification. Don’t give everything away at once; make them work for it. It’s amazing what people, even a future king and queen, will do if they’re significantly intrigued. In this case, garden lovers queued around the block – sorry – for up to 45 minutes just to see what secrets the granite block was hiding.

Make them work for it
There’s a lesson here for the corporate communicator. We’re all used to making information as readily available as possible but why not, on occasion, make the audience – external or internal – work a little to find out what you want to tell them? Don’t show everything at once, keep the real find hidden and make them do a little work for it.

It goes against the grain to hold something back but if somebody has to make an effort to find something out, chances are, the message they take away is likely to be all the stronger for it. The catch? You will need a very good hook to entice your audience to go the extra distance and take matters into their own hands.

What’s your ‘granite block’?
Perhaps you don’t have a 44 tonne block of granite handy but if you can come up with a hook to do the same thing – a brilliant headline, a great image, a task to perform, an irresistible challenge – and entice your audience to go and find out some more, the results could be more effective than simply dishing it all up on a plate.

Sometime less can really be more.

It’s the way I tell ‘em (again and again and again)

You’re at a gathering; drink in hand; the conversation flowing…someone cracks a joke, and in the laughter that follows you think of a great retort and give it both barrels. The trouble is, not everyone hears it, so you repeat it again to the person next to you but by then the moment has gone.

The Germans have a word for it – witzbeharrsamkeit – which roughly translates as shamelessly repeating a joke until everyone present hears it.

Given it’s General Election day today, it feels as if there has been loads of ‘witzbeharrsamkeit’ going around – although, admittedly, it’s not generally jokes that have been endlessly repeated over the last month but manifesto pledges, or party sound bites.

image for screenPoliticians often talk about ‘cut through’ – those messages that really resonate with the electorate and stick in the mind. The trouble is, and this is the same challenge whether you’re trying to be the Honourable Member for Croydon South or communicating a business restructure to 10,000 employees, simply sending out some messages is not the same thing as effectively communicating.

And if you insist on trying to repeat a message that has failed to engage its audience, it won’t necessarily make a communication any more effective, in fact, it could become as embarrassing as our well travelled joke.

Citizenship, corporate responsibility, sustainability, society: does it matter what you call your company’s sustainability efforts?

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot. Just ask Reg Dwight or David Jones*. But does the same principle apply in the slightly less starry (but far more significant) world of corporate sustainability? In days gone by, it used to all be about corporate social responsibility (CSR), but almost no one seems to call it that anymore – it’s become the Reg Dwight of sustainability.

So what should you be calling your company’s sustainability efforts? A random poll of the group websites of a number of FTSE 100 companies proves that there is, as yet, no real consensus.





The 2014 FTSE 100
what we call ‘sustainability’ survey

Aviva – Corporate Responsibility
BAE Systems – Corporate Responsibility
Barclays – Citizenship
Barratt Developments – Sustainability
BP – Sustainability
BSkyB – Bigger Picture
BT – Better Future
Burberry – Corporate Responsibility
Co-op Group – Ethics and Sustainability
Glaxosmithkline – Responsibility
Legal and General – CSR
Marks and Spencer – Plan A
Morrisons – Corporate Responsibility
National Grid – Responsibility
Next – Corporate Responsibility
Persimmon Homes – Corporate Responsibility
RBS – Sustainability
Rolls Royce – Sustainability
Royal Mail – Responsibility
RSA – Corporate Responsibility
Sainsbury’s – Responsibility
Schroders – Corporate Responsibility
Tesco – Tesco and Society
Travis Perkins – Citizenship
Tui Travel – Sustainability
Vodafone – Sustainability
WPP – Sustainability

Corporate responsibility, the child of CSR, is still prominent while a simple ‘responsibility’ (the grandchild?) still features, but ‘sustainability’ appears to be the new kid on the block, with a sprinkling of others: citizenship, ethics and some others,  BSkyB’s Bigger Picture and Marks and Spencer’s Plan A, the stand out candidates.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter as long as whatever you call it resonates with who you’re communicating with. If your employees, clients, suppliers and partners understand and identify with corporate responsibility that’s all that matters. Why not ask them what they think? That said, I applaud the likes of BSKyB and Marks and Spencers for applying some original thought which perhaps suggests they’ve given sustainability more than just a passing thought?

Do customers not care?
What my ‘exhaustive’ survey of FTSE 100 businesses also revealed, was that while most businesses give home page links to their sustainability efforts (with one or two exceptions where sustainability is hidden a level down) on their group sites, when it comes to their consumer facing websites, there’s usually no sign.

Why not? Do they think their customers are not interested? Is it only shareholders and analysts looking at group sites that want to know about a business’s sustainability credentials? Perhaps that was the case, but I increasingly think that consumers are more savvy about the businesses they buy from and often make decisions based not just on price but on a range of other factors. Just look at the tax backlash against the likes of Starbucks and Amazon.

It seems to me
So, you can call sustainability whatever you like in your business provided it has relevance and meaning to your main audiences – don’t call it sustainability if that simply switches off the very people you’re trying to inspire for example. That said, whatever you call it, if its communicated poorly, you might just as well light a candle in the wind…

*Elton John and David Bowie .


Lick me, I taste gorgeous…

Actually I don’t. I’m a blog. But welcome to the world of wackaging as nicely described in this piece in the Independent. Innocent is obviously very good at it and it seems that consumer brands that push sustainability or their eco credentials are particularly keen to indulge in a bit of wackaging.

So what do we think? Is there a space for this style of communication, not just in the more casual world of consumer selling, but also in the more, stiff shirted, b2b environment?

Don’t take that tone with me
I suppose it all comes down to tone and matching it with the audience. If you’re selling nylon stretch trousers to a retired audience via a Sunday supplement, I’d probably say you’re better off telling it straight. That said, I think there is a place for a bit of a wackaging style communication if it can help deliver whatever the communication needs to deliver in an interesting, amusing, or just alternative way.

If you need to make inanimate objects come to life to get results, why not? Just choose your targets carefully and be subtle. Subtle wackaging if you like.

Anyway, thanks for reading me by the way…

Owned media: you might own it but does that mean you can say what you like?

In case you didn’t know, and why should you, there are apparently three ways of defining the media channels that companies and individuals use to communicate with their audiences. PR Week’s editor gives a good definition of ‘bought, earned and owned’ so I won’t repeat it here but I did think it worth focusing on ‘owned’ media.

Owned media is where you’re communicating directly with your audience via Facebook or Twitter for example. You don’t own the medium you use, but you do own the relationship with your followers and you can say whatever you like (within the boundaries of acceptable taste and moral decency of course).

A strange contradiction
Anyway, turn over the page in the same edition of PR Week (29 June) that I mention above and you find a strange contradiction. A story appears on Wayne Rooney tweeting a Nike campaign that the Advertising Standards Authority ruled had not been ‘obviously identified as marketing comms’. Hang on. Surely he owns the relationship so why can’t he do and say whatever he likes (again within those boundaries of acceptable taste and decency)?

Why should Wayne Rooney be subject to the professional standards that the likes of journalists and publishing houses have to observe? Does he own the medium he’s using or not?

That’s the trouble/great thing with the likes of Twitter, it’s turned the traditional publishing model upside down. There are no rules, so why should celebrities or anyone who chooses to use it, listen to it, converse on it, play scrabble on it, care what the ASA, or anyone else says?