Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The battle for today's soundbite

It's a big day in Westminster as the chancellor, George Osborne, delivers his Autumn Statement. In advance his team has done a tremendous amount of pre-briefing of measures to almost universal success. It's been the kind of operation 'New' Labour would have been proud of.

The hours and days after a statement of this kind are far more tricky to control, precisely why Osborne and his team have been so busy over the weekend to maximise the positive impact. All Chancellor's and their opposite number try to encapsulate all that is said in just one soundbite, a winning phrase that communicates the positive or negative impact of the Autumn Statement.

In opposition - I advised Michael Howard, Oliver Letwin and George Osborne - we would try to think of a pithy phrase which we knew would be good enough for the TV reporters to pick up and, hopefully, if really good, the newspaper headline writers too.

It may seem rather childish or shallow to expend so much energy on something so simple. The fact is it is often the simplest of winning soundbites which take the most work in devising. Today, look out for the following techniques which may be the basis for a winning soundbite:

-Triples: A list of three things either good or bad about the economic situation. For some reason the human mind is receptive to lists of three e.g (From George Osborne) "We've delivered stability, low interest rates and a path to future growth". This isn't that catchy but hopefully you get my drift.  

-Rhyming or sound-a-like words: This is a great tactic and can produce some classics. Two famous ones are the straightforward "Downturn in Downing Street" which has been used by opposition politicians in various forms for decades or, my favourite from Michael Howard, "Brown and Blair the posturing pair" which was delivered in regard to possible euro membership.

-Stark contrasts to illustrate a point: One of the best is JFK's "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard" is a good example that uses language that surprises you and jolts the listener a little." Churchill also used this technique very successfully, Gordon Brown less so.  

With two of the brightest minds in George Osborne and  Ed Balls facing each other today expect fireworks and, hopefully, some memorable soundbites.

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