14 Sep Brexit. The hard facts can make life easier.
Continuing our search for pointers to better business communication practice in the Brexit aftermath, it’s worth looking at the necessity of having the right messages.
Brexit is effectively a de-merger. In corporate life, a similar move would not involve a referendum. But it would attract an immense amount of scrutiny. There would have to be a detailed account of any proposed action. There would also be a set of very clear messages explaining why the move was under serious consideration, what it would involve and where it would take the organisation. To work effectively, the messages would be coherent, cogent and convincing. How many of the millions of words spoken in the run-up to the referendum pass those tests? How many can anyone actually remember? The answer seems to be the hotly debated single data point: £350 million ‘back’ to the NHS. Every week. For ever.
The appeal of that message as a piece of communication is very clear. It is short. It is simple. It is strong. It spotlights a perceived ‘bad’ – the faceless bureaucracy of a huge and equally faceless Brussels behemoth. Then it contrasts the bad with the application of charity where it ‘should’ begin: at home. The major flaw is that it turned out to be incorrect. (As did the counter-claims from the Remain side.) Does it matter? The NHS claim is widely credited with having swung the vote in favour of Brexit. Who really cares about an obscure wrangle over statistics?
Post-Brexit, it has in fact mattered very much. Whether the NHS will get its extra £350 million a week remains to be seen. But it hasn’t happened yet. Nor can anybody in authority, or wanting to be in authority, say when it might happen. A shot in the arm for a beloved national institution is proving to be more of a shot in the head for those who made the initial promise. What’s the lesson?
If there is any chance that it can be disproven, don’t go for the immediate message hit; no matter how attractive it seems or how likely it is to be effective in the short term. The truth will out. And when it does, credibility is very likely to crumble. Stick to the facts. Whatever they are, skilled communication can make them your friends for life.
Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters