Good communications goes down the pan

I’m a great believer in celebrating good examples of communication wherever you find it. So I’d like to apologise to my fellow rail passengers on the 14.58 train from Peterborough to Norwich last Sunday afternoon for hanging around the train WC with my camera phone.

Fear not dear reader, there are no prurient revelations to be confessed here; my motives were driven purely by professional interest as a communicator.

Lifting the lid in the said WC – in itself a hygienically challenging feat – I came across this great message which made me chuckle.














So why is it a piece of great communication? I think there are two reasons:

  • Well targeted – can’t argue with its relevance for everyone who uses the WC
  • Amusing – it has a serious message well balanced with a bit of humour. It can be hard to get the tone right when you want to introduce a touch of levity, but I reckon this gets it just right.

Not bad for toilet humour…

Where’s your ‘green lawn’? Some reputational disasters can be hiding in plain sight.

There’s a new pastime that’s all the rage in drought stricken California. Outing celebrity green lawns. In terms of environmental activism, it’s not up there with strapping yourself to a decommissioned oil rig in the middle of the North Sea or risking life and limb to disrupt a Japanese whaling ship, but nonetheless, it’s doing a great job of heaping shame on those celebrities who seem to rate their green lawn as a higher priority than irrigation for crops, or even drinking water.

For those tasked with safeguarding a company’s reputation, we get used to rooting out those potential crisis situations buried somewhere deep within an organisation. But how often are those reputation manglers hiding in plain sight? For many a celeb in California, they appear unaware that their conspicuously green and verdant lawns are a reputational car crash in the waiting. For many companies the same principle applies, except of course it’s usually not a green lawn at issue.

What was once acceptable…
Perhaps it’s a tax arrangement that may be perfectly legal but under today’s intense public scrutiny has become questionable at best; or employment practices (zero hours any one?); or the sponsorship of a particular event or organisation that once made sense and now seems clichéd or unacceptable; or even the hobby your chief exec pursues.

You can get too close sometimes to a situation to realise a potential PR crisis in the making. Perhaps it’s worth stepping back for a moment and asking yourself, where’s your ‘green lawn’?

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.