This should be a basic tenet of all our communications activity but I've seen a belting example this week of doing just that, and with the author still expecting the audience to support them!
Firstly, apologies for not being able to share an image with you of the piece itself as I was so annoyed with it that I tore it up. So here's a picture of the author instead, my MP Crispin Blunt.
Lots of people email their MPs about all sorts of things and responding individually is not always possible – fair enough. So the opening paragraph read something like;
"Lots of my constituents have contacted me about this issue so I've put together this standardised response so that I can reply consistently to everyone…"
This wasn't a concern to me as I thought we need to be fair with our expectations. However what followed in no way shape or form addressed my question. Oh, it had the word 'duty' in it but there the similarity ended. All it did was roll out party political platitudes, attempt to score points against the opposition and ignore every word I'd said.
Secondly, if your audience asks you not to contact them via the paper post, wasting valuable and scarce resources, pay attention and respond where possible in kind. I say where possible as we can't always reply directly to SMS or phone messages if we don't have the wherewithal. But I know for a fact that MPs both accept and respond to emails.
And lastly, try not to make things worse by spending extra unnecessary money on a mailed response (against the audience's wishes) which highlights how brilliantly you think you are doing in reducing costs to said audience! (this is kind of insulting Mr Blunt).
So for the benefit of those in public office and the rest of us who try to actually produce impactful communications, here's a few golden rules from the book of experience and common sense:
- Address the question in hand
- Don't obfuscate sensitive issues – we don't need to be rude or overly blunt but we should NEVER ignore our audience's wants and needs if we want something from them in the future
- Talk about the positive things you are doing or planning to make things better (that doesn't mean avoiding negative situations, just focus on what you're doing to improve them)
- Pay attention to your audience's communication preferences and if you can't adhere to them, at least explain why not
- Make sure your words and your behaviours match up. If they don't, your credibility with the audience is only heading downwards.
I'm offering a bottle of wine for any piece of communication that any reader can share with me that makes me more aghast. You just have to get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org or @kevbaughen), we'll share your example with the world and, if I think it's the most impressive, choose red or white.
Oh, and if you know any interns or assistants tasked with putting together MP's responses, PLEASE show them this blog!