Thursday, 20 January 2011

Fundamental errors in government communications

I'm in danger of being seen as a basher of the government, and fear my friends in Downing Street won't thank me, but if I was involved in trying to communicate the government's message I would be looking to do things differently.


The Express executive editor Patrick O'Flynn Tweeted last night that Simon Burns was the wrong Minister to be defending the NHS reforms. (The fact he was seen to be defending the reforms at all is a worry in itself). O'Flynn's point is Burns doesn't look the part as he is slightly chubby, floppy haired and relatively well spoken. I don't agree that just because you are 'posh' means you can't deliver a message on the media effectively.

I do agree that the government suffer from a lack of credible spokespeople; too many of them look and sound like politicians. When this happens the classic lazy critique of 'they are all the same' starts to have a ring of truth to it. 

There are too few Ministers who are able to make policies seem relevant to the average family. Why and how do these NHS reforms make people's lives better should be the first point all government spokespeople make on the media - whatever the question.

Give your spokespeople the tools to do their job on the media

Once the spokespeople have the right lines - messages are the foundations of any communications push - make sure they are confident in using them. The right lines need to include real life, everyday examples that people can relate to. How many of the Ministers on TV and radio this week have been media trained? (I know of a good trainer if they are on the look out!). Too many times I have seen spokespeople getting bogged down in process points which plays into the hands of the government's critics. Once you start answering someone else's points it is very difficult to get back to telling your story.

Simplify but don't dumb down

I wrote earlier today about the complex arguments made by the prime minister in his speech on Monday; these arguments have not then been boiled down to a few easily digestible soundbites. This isn't using soundbites for soundbites sake in the way Labour ministers often did but, instead, finding a way to communicate complex arguments in a way that people will understand and relate to.

I planned announcements in opposition which was hard, in government I imagine it is far worse but there seems to be some fundamental tools of communication that are not being used in the way they should.

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