Last week’s flurry of smirking delight over Rex Tillerson’s refusal to disown ‘fucking moron’ set me musing once again on the alchemy of the soundbite.
Those two words will hang around Trump’s neck for the remainder of his presidency. Supporters, detractors, players and commentators, no-one will ever forget them, or see the President without them muttering in the background. It reminded me of the dawn of the Trump candidacy. At first, in those long ago halcyon days, the whole idea was an absurdity. Trump was blowing off wind, as was his wont, but as to his becoming President – what, The President? Of America? Seriously?
And then I heard the words ‘Make America Great Again’, and I thought ‘uh oh’.
So, four words made him Mr President; now two hobble him forever as President dumbo.
Never underestimate the power of words.
Government communications have improved immeasurably in my lifetime.
When I was young, pretty much everything originating from an official body had to be translated from a near-impenetrable Pathé News polysyllabic porridge. Somewhere along the line, someone grasped the novel notion that communications should actually, well, communicate, and with the help of the likes of the Plain English campaign, great progress has been made in making things accessible to people who don’t read a great deal. Which, let’s face it, is a lot of people.
So I was a bit surprised recently to come across (http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1126.aspx?categoryid=51):
Two paras down you come to an explanation of Kcals and KJs which, with a bit of unpicking, lets you cross-refer back to the opening para and get to the answer you actually wanted when you arrived. In common parlance:
- For a man – 2,500 a day
- For a woman – 2,000 a day
Why couldn’t they simply state that at the top, then move on to the caveats?
Watching Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation last night, and Shakespeare came up. Anyone who wields words for a living can only look on in awe…
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Three big comms lessons to take away from last Thursday:
- Traditional media seems defunct, over here at least. The big poster campaigns of yesteryear are history. Even party political broadcasts no longer seem to play much of a part. ‘Broadcast’, per se, looks obsolete. Today’s action is online, and tightly-targeted.
- Strong, simple messages can still engage. “That’s what I’ve always said…”
- But beware hostages to fortune. For the many, not the few is immune from ‘news’; Strong but stable may sound potent, but it’s terribly vulnerable to ‘events, dear boy, events’.