The truth behind spin

Business people have been slower off the mark. But the business world can learn a lot from politicians about how to deal with the media, how to effectively get a message across and how to manage their business’s image.

Technology has changed the way we communicate forever. The traditional ‘command-and-control’ approach to communicating is redundant. Managing your reputation – whether you are a political party or a huge global company – is an art. And a large part of that art lies in tailoring messages for specific audiences.

As the world becomes more complex, the need for simplicity increases. That’s why ‘sound bites’, which allow a complex message to be delivered quickly and effectively, are so widely used. ‘Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime’ sums up an entire policy in just 10 words.

It’s well worth spending the time to develop a few sound bites of your own. If they’re memorable, they will make you stand out from those who spend 10 minutes making a point that only requires a couple of lines.

And when you are communicating, don’t forget to build emotional as well as rational commitment to your thoughts and ideas. You don’t see politicians resorting to slick PowerPoint slides, and for a very good reason: people empathise with people, not projectors. Avoid jargon, and use short words. That way, your words will be remembered.

Stick to the message, and don’t get sidetracked. Whenever you communicate, write down three messages you want to get across, and don’t stray from them. Use this tactic in every situation where you find yourself having to express a viewpoint – it works like a dream.

Whether you like it or not, you can’t avoid managing your image. But whatever you say must be grounded in reality, otherwise your message will lack authenticity, and you will find it difficult to gain trust. And trust, it goes without saying, is one of the most treasured commodities in politics and business.

Mark McCartney is associate director of Grayling

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