When you’ve got a difficult message to deliver don’t just send out the next cab on the rank. Instead, use a bit of research to send out the best one.
Who is delivering the message is just as important as what they are actually saying.
But when time and effort gets spent on the the words very little gets spent on thinking through who will say them.
Who will say it? And what will they say? Here is a couple of pieces of research that should help guide who will say what for you.
A case study with trees and angry people
Back when I was in the public sector, an issue blew up with trees being cut down on common land. The simple equation was this:
Trees are good, so cutting them down is bad.
That’s a perfectly understandable response. The thing was, it was more complicated than that. IKt boiled down to:
Trees are good but they’re damaging rare heathland.
The offending trees themselves were self-set. In other words, birds had eaten berries and the seeds had ended up germinating where they fell. Trouble is the heath land they had germinated on needs protecting as there isn’t much of it. Sounds technical? It was. Luckily, we had a named countryside ranger who was using social media for the organisation. So, she was better able to communicate what was happening.
Why? Because she was a trusted individual and an expert in her field. She had also built a relationship with people. What was the alternative? A politician who wouldn’t have had the same clout.
Who will say it? Trust and shooting the messenger
Our reaction depends a great deal on who is sent out of the door to deliver the message. If we don’t really believe whoever has been sent out we won’t believe what they say. The 2016 Edelman Trust barometer sets out through extensive polling what people think of people with different job titles. See the board of directors on the right? They’re least trusted. Your employee? Markedly more trusted and the person like yourself even more so.
Who will say it? Trust in politicians is low
Data from Ipsos Mori was posted on Twitter earlier today by Ben Page. If you don’t already do follow him. He’s often insightful. The research shows that politicians are trusted by 15 per cent of the population and nurses and doctors at more than 90 per cent are the most trusted. The research is here:
The data is useful if you are in the public sector. While many of us would like politicians to be more trusted the hard reality is that they are not. Seeing as that’s the landscape we’re faced with, I’d argue that we need to be more thoughful in the way we deliver messages. The trusted member of staff is likely to be more effective. This also has the spin-off of making the approval process that bit quicker.
Of course, black is not white and there are occasions when a politician fronting up a message is the best route. This is where the small ‘p’ nouse of a comms officer is important.
Who will say it? Content is king
Of course, there’s a chance the message may be better delivered not by an individual but by a piece of content. The sharable infographic, the video or the image may be the best way to deliver the message. Especially if it is financial data that frankly, is a bit dull. Make the telephone directory come alive in other ways.
What will you say?: Honest communications, please
One last set of data to check before you respond also comes from the UK edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s about honesty. The research breaks down the population into the informed public and mass. In other words, college educated and high media cosumers and the rest. The stats here are so striking they can’t be avoided. We all want honest communications. My own take on this is that this is messages that are straight and don’t try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
So, if that message is honest, straight and comes from people who are likely to be trusted, you’ve got a chance.
If you call cuts cuts and not efficiencies you are more likely to cut through. Especially if they are delivered from someone people can trust.
I’m email@example.com and @danslee. Shout if I can help. I’ll be co-delivering a workshop on How to Communicate in a Digital World in Edinburgh on December 9, Birmingham on January 24 and Manchester on February 16. More info here.
Picture credit: Exile on Ontario Street / Flickr