Image courtesy of flickr user Number 10

Widening the circle: What businesses can learn from Theresa May’s close advisers

By Keith Brookbank

Among the many shocking outcomes of last week’s General Election, perhaps the least surprising was the resignation of two people who were at the centre of ‘Brand Theresa May’. Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, the Prime Minister’s co-chiefs of staff, resigned on Saturday, amid a flurry of criticism over their role in the Conservative Party’s election loss.

However, the criticism of May’s closest advisers did not begin with last week’s election result. Pre-election, media articles had suggested that Theresa May’s difficulties with the social care policy stemmed from her overreliance on a small group of people. The policy wasn’t something which had undergone a wider consultation with the party or had been tested among a sample of the electorate and so, the Prime Minister was ultimately forced to do a u-turn.

The same accusations could be levelled at companies developing communications campaigns. Relying on an internal session with a small group of people from a company to generate ideas is a dangerous one. It’s no use leadership dreaming up ideas in a closed room and hoping they will stick. There’s three ways to help ensure your campaign gets off on the right foot and resonates with your audience.

Firstly, you need to assess the wider environment before you even come up with an idea. One way to do this would be to carry out a SWOT or PESTLE analysis. There’s still some divide over the benefits of using SWOT v. PESTLE but failing to use either could be disastrous for your campaign. SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and PESTLE, standing for political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental are useful tools in helping to establish the external environment which will surround your policy or campaign launch. Had Theresa May’s team conducted such analysis, the social care policy and, subsequently, her election campaign strategy, might have taken on a very different guise.

To develop a campaign which will really stick, you also need to understand your audience and take a collaborative approach. This means involving your target audiences – clients, prospects, colleagues – early on in the process. You could do this through conducting qualitative interviews with your key targets, carrying out some early quantitative research with a sample audience and/or carrying out some basic social listening. Rather than coming up with an idea behind a closed door, you should take on board ideas and criticisms from across your target audience.

Finally, during the process, communications teams should test early thinking to ensure ideas are on the right track, which then allows for early tweaks to avoid disaster later down the line.  The principle of co-creation is essential to communications ideas which build genuinely fruitful thought leadership platforms.

Campaigns dreamed up behind closed doors rarely, if ever, result in big success. If you fail to consider the external environment into which you’re launching your campaign, if you don’t consider your audience and if you don’t test out your ideas before launch you risk following in Theresa May’s footsteps. And no one wants to step into those leopard print shoes right now.

Keith Brookbank is Director at Linstock Communications

Image courtesy of flickr user Number 10

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