Learning a lesson in staying on message from Theresa May
3 April 2017, Blog
The Weekend Word – 3rd April 2017
It’s been one heck of a couple of weeks for Theresa May, with the Westminster attack, the Holyrood vote for a second Scottish referendum and the triggering of Article 50. With the media whipped up into a frenzy, she and her team have had to work exceptionally hard to try and reassure the British public that they are in control.
Aside from the Daily Mail’s typically tacky ‘Legs-it’ front page, the Prime Minister’s spin doctors have on the whole done a pretty good job in such turbulent times. Whilst her tactics of linking security to free trade have come under question, you can’t argue the fact that May has remained calm, consistent and, most importantly, on message. Her interview with Andrew Neil on March 29th was criticised by some for being bland and revealing little, but that was exactly the intention. Her well prepared answers hinted at potential olive branches for Europe ahead of negotiations, such as refusing to rule out free movement and preferential treatment to EU migrants post-Brexit, whilst she neatly side-stepped the question of whether Britain will be forced to pay a huge divorce settlement.
We may still be a nation divided in opinion by the Brexit vote, but a Sky News poll last week showed that over half of those surveyed are still happy that Article 50 has been triggered – no mass panic here then.
So what can businesses learn from Theresa’s tactics? There are a number of things you can do, not just at times of crisis, to ensure you keep in control of your messaging:
- Make it credible. It’s no good making grand claims about your business unless they are genuine because people will see through them. Theresa May is not trying to kid the nation that the Brexit negotiations will be a walk in the park because it wouldn’t wash; she is instead quite clear that there is a formal process and tough negotiations ahead of us.
- Use facts and figures. Interesting statistics and statements are a great way of helping to bring your business or topic to life, just make sure you can back them up.
- Ask yourself some questions. When crafting your messages, ask yourself WHY anyone would care about this, WHAT they need to know, HOW you want them to respond. This will help focus your messaging on what is important for your audience and avoid irrelevant content.
- Be consistent. It’s a good idea to agree half a dozen key statements about your business/project/issue and then frequently refer back to them throughout all of your communications. May repeatedly uses the same words and phrases when talking about Brexit, such as ‘optimistic’, ‘in control of our borders and our laws’, a ‘stronger Britain’, ‘a more outward-looking country’, ‘a fairer society’.
- Ditch the jargon. And whatever you do, avoid the acronyms too. Plain English is always best if you want to avoid misunderstandings and keep your audience switched on. A good test is to imagine your content is being read by your 80 year old grandmother. Would it make sense to her?
- Pick your moment. When it comes to communicating your message, whether it’s through a press release, a blog, an email or a tweet, pick the right time to do it. Mailshotting businesses in London about your company’s new discounted corporate gym membership on the day of the Westminster attack would be pointless and even inappropriate; trying to interest a journalist in a story about your firm’s new accountancy service during Prime Ministers Questions on March 29th would question how switched on you are.
- Finally, be yourself. Weave your company’s values and ethos through all of your messaging. Develop a strong personality and voice that truly represent what your business stands for. This will ensure you sound original and help to build a greater understanding of your brand. And, if you ever find yourself dealing with a crisis, it will make it much easier to stick to the script.