Theresa May, election, argument, trousers

General election lessons: watch what you’ve said

This isn’t a political blog so I’m not going to comment on the wisdom or otherwise of calling an election right now (there will be no definitive verdict on that until 9 June, no matter what the pundits say). However, from a communications perspective there is much to learn.

If you’re going to stand up in public often, it’s worth keeping an eye (or ear) on any pronouncements you might have made before.

There will be no 2017 election…

As I type it’s about three and a half hours since prime minister Theresa May announced she was going to try calling a general election on 8 June. Rumours were already circulating so the Independent had already put this piece online, demonstrating just how many times she’d said she was going to do no such thing:

She is far from the only one of course. Inevitably Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters will be calling for loyalty from their party – and will have the fact that he personally rebelled against Labour’s then leadership no fewer than 428 times from the back benches.

This stuff is well known. But does it tell us anything about how you can communicate about your business?

Consistency is everything

Obviously stuff changes, and May will no doubt argue that stuff has definitely changed since she backed the Remain vote less than a year ago. In business things change as well but when they haven’t, your position had better be consistent.

In the 1990s I interviewed a guy from IBM, who had just started running their desktop division. I pointed out that when at Toshiba – then a leader in laptop manufacturing – he’d said the desktop was dead.

He denied having said it and dismissed my comment as a nice journalistic jab but not a reflection of what he’d said. On checking when I got back to the office I found the press release; he’d either said it or authorised it as a comment on his behalf.

Google changes everything

You now don’t have the luxury of waiting until a hack like me gets back to the office, is on deadline and so hasn’t got the time to call you back so the comment doesn’t get into my article. Anyone with a smartphone (and every journalist will have one) can check up on you now.

The way around this is to ensure you’re well briefed, you have a corporate message and you stick to it.

That said, a few years later I saw a guy presenting in his new job, having previously worked for a competitor. One of the audience asked whether he was telling the truth now and had been lying to them previously or the other way around. He spread out his hands, cast his eyes to the heavens and said: “The truth changed!”

He got the biggest round of applause of the day and a lot of laughs. We all know the game, you’re sending messages out because it’s your business and that can change – but try not to contradict yourself, from the same job, in a matter of weeks or even days.

Do you need help with your corporate messaging or preparation for interviews? I can help – email me for details.

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