Lessons on communicating from the man behind comms at No.10




Neil Bayley

Our latest event saw us host an ‘Audience with Alex Aiken’, a lively Q&A and discussion for communications professionals at Good Relations’ HQ in London.

As Executive Director of Government Communications, Alex revealed some of the principles that inform the way he leads communications at the highest level of Government and disclosed some of the lessons from the Scottish referendum campaign which dominated the news agenda last year.

Here’s a summary of some of the key points from the discussion:

Core communications principles

Managing a team of 3,982 communications practitioners, and a £500 million budget, requires guiding principles that ensure all government communications are issued to an exacting standard. Alex asks that everyone uses the simple acronym ‘OASIS’ to ensure all campaigns are developed in ways that give them the greatest chance of success: 

O – Objective – What is the main objective of what you are seeking to communicate?

A – Audience – Who is your primary audience ?

S – Strategy – Follow a simple strategy to reaching your audience

I – Implementation – Follow all actions through, no cutting corners

S – Score – Evaluate success

The last point on evaluation is critical and methods have evolved considerably in government.  In recent years, for example, Alex noted that the PM no longer receives press cuttings, but daily dashboards which analyse how sentiment is shifting and the effectiveness of activities and communications.  By following ‘OASIS’, Alex ensures his team avoid the worst type of communication, that of ‘SOS’ or ‘sending out stuff’. It ensures a strategic framework is behind each campaign.

Key lessons from Scotland

A priority for the Government Communications Team over the last twelve months, was achieving a pro-Union result in the Scottish referendum campaign. The campaign was successful, but Alex divulged some key lessons his team picked up along the way: 

1. EMOTION IS KEY – Presenting facts and rational arguments alone is not enough.  Emotion is key, and the Government must be more emotive in the way its puts it messages across.  The advocates of Scottish independence certainly found some strong emotional references, right through to the cherished Highland cow.

2. RIGHT CHANNELS FOR THE RIGHT AUDIENCES – If a key demographic of swing voters, such as Glasgow mums, is active on Facebook, then that’s where your communications need to cut through.  The traditional press is still important, but maybe not the frontline.

Alex observed that this was a lesson put to good effect in the subsequent Conservative election campaign which used Facebook to reach voters where Labour focused its attention on Twitter, (ed: which acts in many ways as an echo chamber of opinion rather than a means to reach beyond your own supporters).

3. FOLLOW YOUR OWN COURSE – Ensure that you do not get distracted by the opposition, rather trust your principles and follow them.  Craft your own campaign and stick to your own agenda.

This is the first of two blogs on this event, one of a series of exclusive events which Good Relations run for clients and contacts across the year.  If people are interested in joining, they should contact Holly Dedman, hdedman@goodrelations.co.uk

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