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Internal comms: lessons from the PM…

It may be stretching things a bit, but there’s plenty we can learn about internal comms from the Covid crisis.

In effect, Boris Johnson (just ‘the PM’ from now on) has been conducting an internal communications campaign as the crisis unfolded, with the UK population as the internal audience.

Whatever your views on the handling of the pandemic, it’s pretty clear that the internal comms strategy has failed, with the PM’s ratings dropping, internal stakeholders (Tory MPs) rebelling, and the core target audience (the public) increasingly disaffected, to judge from social media.

With the anonymous briefings having already started about the PM’s likely departure from office next year, it’s fairly clear that the comms plan hasn’t won over the audience…

Two Ts may explain why – and why any organisation should be careful to get them right in their internal comms.

Tone and Trust are key. There’s a third T – Truth – which is also key, and wrapped up in Trust.

First – however you are going to communicate with your audience – get the Tone right. The PM’s vivid if sometimes inarticulate phraseology sets the wrong tone. We are either urged to help ‘wrestle the virus to the ground’ – rather more school playground than considered strategy – or asked to believe in a ‘whack-a-mole’ approach. Vivid yes, but not quite right for an incredibly damaging public health crisis.

(It’s like a logistics MD choosing to say either ‘We know Brexit might be a sticky wicket for us, but we’re just going to smash any problems for six’ or ‘We recognise the challenges and we’ve had a Brexit team at work for six months, talking to our suppliers in Europe and working with Government to plan the details’. Which sentence inspires more trust..?)

So, having given his audience the impression that we’re all engaged in a struggle we can bluster our way out of with the help of the science, how should the PM have got the audience to Trust him to lead the way?

Not by making statements which are obviously wrong or hopelessly over-ambitious (‘a world-beating track and trace system’) or making judgements which are clearly out of tune with your audience’s views (backing Dominic Cummings).

We should aim to make statements which are honest and achievable; keep our audience up to date with progress on our plans; address all our stakeholders – not just the ones whose backing you know you’ll get – and deliver on our promises. That’s the way to make internal comms a trusted part of an organisation’s culture. Pass the Tone and Trust test every time, and your ratings can only rise…

Tone and Trust are key. There’s a third T – Truth – which is also key, and wrapped up in Trust.