We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Ian Dunt, editor at politics.co.uk, as a guest speaker for our first Zoom Out session of 2021.
An avid commentator, follower of current affairs (and prolific swearer), Ian joined us to discuss the communications challenges linked to political campaigning, and the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on all things comms.
Having openly scrutinised and challenged the handling of the pandemic over the past twelve months, Ian’s insights during this hour-long session were enlightening to say the least, posing a question on the minds of us all:
Why is the current government consistently topping the polls, despite having come under fire consistently for its approach to the Covid-19 response and recovery?
Here are our top takeaways from the session.
1. It’s hard to communicate what’s good about a product…if the product doesn’t exist
In the session, Ian shared how the Labour Party’s shortcomings stem from not knowing what they want to achieve, resulting in a confused, fragmented narrative. No wonder it is such a hard sell.
Instead, they use communication as a type of ‘purity test’, to prove ideological purity and the virtue of their spokespeople, over winning the hearts and minds of voters. This comes at the expense of having a relatable narrative and, most importantly, being able to convince the electorate to back them.
And this doesn’t seem like an uncommon pitfall. In fact, ask any PR who has been in the industry for more than five minutes and they can probably point you in the direction of a handful of organisations that suffer from a similar issue.
This eagerness to start communicating about new products and services before they have even been developed is always tempting, but without an iron clad offering, why try and run before you can walk?
2. The simpler the message, the better
Ian made an insightful point that is tried and tested but still easy to forget: good comms is simple.
Consider Churchill’s ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’, or Brexit’s ‘take back control’ or ‘get Brexit done’ slogans. The words are snappy, easy to understand and feature a clear call to action.
Yet, over the years, many political parties have fallen short of this seemingly simple task. Instead, they promote or attach themselves to soundbites and statements that don’t evoke any emotional resonance.
Thinking about everyday life, the theory still stands. ‘Every Little Helps’, ‘Just Do It’, ‘Buy it. Sell it. Love it.’ These are the brand messages that stick with us, so why do so many businesses forget the importance of simplicity?
When organisations attach themselves to overcomplicated messages that don’t have a clear visual reference, they risk losing their audience, even if their products and services are top of the line.
3. Don’t underestimate charisma and personality
Like any successful business deal, politics requires leaders with charisma.
But if we all want substance over style, and to be governed by a party with the best political ideals, then why does personality matter to us so much?
What Ian believes it comes down to is a sense of naturalism. A sense that those political figures are really who they are right at that moment. And, whether you remember Boris Johnson for his blundering voice and quirky blonde hair, or Tony Blair’s ability to say nothing at all but do so in the most charming and convincing manner, then Ian has a good point.
Arguably, these are two of the biggest, most memorable political characters of recent years, with something that is so difficult to find among many policy-orientated individuals – personality.
And perhaps, when putting our comms people forward – in the media, events, or public engagements – we can all learn a little something from Boris Johnson: maybe we don’t have to take ourselves quite so seriously?
About Zoom Out
Zoom Out is firstlight’s forum for provocative and lively discussion. We want to bring our network together to debate ideas, challenge convention and be heard.