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.

Let’s all have a chaterama: communications political style

As the country counts down to the general election (less than 100 days folks), I thought it would be illuminating to look at some of the communications campaign techniques used by our rulers. After all, beneath all the hype and hoopla, there might be something that you can use within your own communications campaigns.

So here’s five, complete with pros, cons and a ‘marks out of ten’ rating usefulness for your business communications.

Trust MeChaterama
Defined in the Guardian as David Cameron’s preferred ‘more laid-back discussion-type scenario, one that doesn’t involve evidence, numbers, detail, that kind of thing.’ Next time you pitch your CEO for an interview with the FT, perhaps style it as a chaterama rather than anything of too much substance. That way, you’ve a nice get out if it all goes pear shaped – tell the journalist it was a chaterama and all off-record.
Pros: Informal. Shirt-off, up an at ‘em style.
Cons: Anything that ends in ‘erama’ is difficult to take seriously.
Business usefulness rating: 4/10

Kitchen suppers
Well, yes, not necessarily something that the average business might be able to replicate – a big kitchen in No10 does help. But a nice idea if you’re looking for formal informality for your CEO to woo some supporters; investors, journalists, recalcitrant employees… It’s like going to a restaurant and sitting at the chef’s table…
Pros: Informal, exclusive.
Cons: Mismatched crockery is fine when it’s just friends but…
Business usefulness rating: 3/10

Walk and talk
Not strictly a campaign tactic, but Barack Obama is a particular proponent. Rather than schedule in someone for a formal meeting, just give them the time between meetings. Could be used by senior management to meet those employees who rarely get ‘face time’ with the top bosses.
Pros: Timely, efficient, never a wasted moment…
Cons: The junior partner in the relationship may go away feeling unloved.
Business usefulness rating: 6/10

Very popular at election time. John Major was particularly well known for preaching from the soapbox. Largely useful for businesses as a technique for employee communications though (unless clients and prospects gather spontaneously at Speakers’ Corner?).
Pros: Anytime, anywhere. Cheap. Accessible.
Cons: Open to the elements. Little control. Health and safety issues (employers’ liability may not cover). Transporting the soapbox will undoubtedly end up with the Head of Comms scurrying around with the box (should be aiming for board level role, not box level).
Business usefulness rating: 4/10

According to Wikipedia (must be right then), hustings comes from an old Norse word meaning ‘the assembly of the household of personal followers or retainers of a king, earl or chief’. Now, more commonly the time when politicians get to address their prospective constituents. According to the Electoral Commission, ‘hustings events should be open and transparent and provide voters with an opportunity to hear the views of candidates or parties’. Maybe an opportunity for an internal hustings for senior management to share their vision with employees?
Pros: Accessible. Transparent.
Cons: Can be boisterous. Hard to maintain control.
Business usefulness rating: 8/10

I hereby give notice that…
So based on no science whatsoever, it seems holding a hustings would be the most transferable of the political communications techniques in a business environment. No, wait, did I mention ‘political attack ads’?

Clickbait might hook you a fish or two but is it a price worth paying?

Clickbait. A pejorative term for those blog/article headlines that you just can’t resist clicking on. We’ve all been there, or rather clicked on them and been reeled in. Some firms are making a lot of money focusing on this style of content – Taboola and Outbrain to name a couple.

Generally it’s for content aimed at the consumer market and involves a celebrity or two, but increasingly clickbait seems to be plying its trade in the b2b world.

Man with fish

LinkedIn for example, is littered with ‘clickbaity’ type headlines and seems to be getting more so every day:

  • Why I’m quitting social media
  • Why quitting your job today will be the best thing you ever do

In days gone by of course, clickbait used to be called a headline. And there is nothing wrong with a good headline of course – in fact, a good headline is essential. There’s no point in writing a well thought out blog/article and sticking a bland title on top – a bit like wrapping a great Christmas present in brown paper…(I had to shoehorn one Christmas reference in).

When is a headline not a headline
The risk is that the more sensational the headline – the more clickbaity it is – the higher the risk of disappointing the reader if the content doesn’t live up to its billing. In the clickbait world it almost never does but it’s done its work and the advertisers are happy. As a business though that sort of engagement is of no use and, if anything, could do more to damage your brand.

But, if you really like clickbait, and in these fallow days before everyone clears off on their holiday break, perhaps invest a few minutes perusing Onion’s ClickHole for some irresistible clickbait (that may, or may not, be made up)…go on, you know you want to.

Have a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I tell stories therefore I am (a content marketer)

According to the Content Marketing Institute (and you just know something has arrived when it gets big enough to have its own institute). Content marketing is defined as:

“A marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

I’m not sure how content (ahem) I am with that definition. Here’s maybe one that’s a bit less wordy from Scribewise:

“The creation and distribution of journalistic, audience-focused content that helps people do their jobs or live their lives.”

But maybe, it can be even simpler:

“Stories that interest/excite your customers.”

NewspaperMake it interesting
That’s mine so feel free to shoot it down. But it captures the key tenet of content marketing as I see it that whatever you’re writing, filming, recording etc, and wherever you publish it be it on a website, an online newsletter, or a social media platform for example, it must appeal to the interests of your customers.

The advertorial – now more commonly badged as native advertising – is a great example of content marketing. In days gone by it was pretty bad (scarcely much more than an advert), but most businesses seems to have cottoned on to the importance of making it a really audience focused piece (i.e. make it interesting) where the hard sell is impossible to detect. After all, what’s the point in paying for something that no one reads?

Nothing new
Most people who’ve worked in public relations for any length of time will scoff at the idea that content marketing is something new; they’ll say (alright, I’ll include me too) that we’ve been coming up with interesting content ideas for businesses for years that work to exploit themes and topics that will interest the customer without resorting to an overt sales pitch (journalists have long been great filters for what makes good content marketing and what doesn’t).

Quite true. The excitement now of course is that those journalistic gatekeepers can’t get in the way of all the new communication routes to the customer that technology has introduced. The danger is forgetting that an easier route to market doesn’t mean any less effort should be made in making the product that we take to market (in this case the content) something that our target customers really want to read, watch, or listen to.

When to speak up in a crisis

A head of communications I once knew found himself caught up in a major industry scandal with his firm at the eye of a media storm. His working day stretched out. He’d arrive late at home and be off early the next day, working weekends and, even when at home, he’d be fielding calls and emails.

According to him, his wife had identified a curious imbalance between his time at work and his visibility in the press: “The thing I find odd,” his wife told him, “is that you’re spending all the hours dealing with this crisis and yet all I ever see in the press is you saying ‘no comment’. What exactly are you doing at work?”

That’s the curious thing about a crisis. It can suck up the hours but quite often, in media relations anyway, it involves saying very little. Increasingly though, that approach has changed. The growth of social media and the way in which news – particularly bad news – freely surfs the waves, means control by way of a ‘no comment’ is virtually (and literally) impossible.

Speak up …and quickly
People nowadays not only prefer transparency and full disclosure – they demand it. If you’ve nothing to hide, why not take every opportunity to say exactly that. And if you have something to hide, you’d better come out and give your side of events pretty quickly because it will be out sooner or later.

And wouldn’t you prefer to be the one who manages that story?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be spending any less hours in the office managing a crisis, but at least your wife/husband/partner will be able to see and read a bit more from the fruits of your labour.