I get “helpful” suggestions on the job every day: make the interviewee stand in front of our logo, let’s get the CEO to say a word – that’ll impress them, make sure you add key message X to everything, that doesn’t follow our colour guidelines, we need a better jingle, can you think of a good soundbite? And so on.
Will this sort of thing make a difference? Will it make your communication more effective? Will it make people like you more? Will it mean you sell more? Will it lead to behavioural change that will shift your issue the way you want it to over time? Probably not.
So what should be your first litmus test? Simply – how would I react..? Or – what would I think..?
Don’t even put yourself in the shoes of a member of the general public, a civil servant, a journalist or whoever it is you’re trying to convince. Just imagine – if I had nothing to do with these people – what would I think? Would I be more impressed if there was a giant logo in the background? (Answer will probably be: Nope, I’d probably be less impressed.) Would I be impressed if I was hearing the CEO? (Does that not just depend on what they say and how they say it?) Would I care if the colour on the blog doesn’t match the brochure? (Couldn’t care less.)
Is this not just common sense? Yes, but common sense is often in short supply when it comes to communications. First, people within organisations live that organisation every day and inevitably end up reflecting internal thinking in their outgoing comms. It’s only natural. You’re impressed by the CEO but sometimes it’s hard to remember that others often couldn’t care less. Second, it’s old-school comms still ruling the roost. Very structured, hierarchical, controlled, rule-based communications shaped by conventions that have been proven not to matter or to even be detrimental, like the convention that states that showing your logo everywhere will mean people will remember that it’s you or that the CEO carries more clout than a lowly engineer (even if the latter is much more interesting.) Yeah, whatever. People are looking for openness, honesty and quality, so the less you stage things and follow outdated rules, the more likely you’ll be able to offer them that.