LEADER: Sound advice from comms veterans

This writer was fortunate enough to hear two of the UK’s best communicators speak this week, along with one of its most effective comms strategists.

All had been bloodied in media battles, but have come through with sensible and inspiring advice to anyone who works in the comms sphere.

The first two – General Sir Michael Jackson, former British Army chief of staff, and Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton – were speaking at a Dimbleby Cancer Care event organised by Hanover.

The other, Alastair Campbell, was talking at former rugby international Will Greenwood’s testimonial event. Some central themes emerged.

All agree global media have never been more ubiquitous, relentless and aggressive. Jackson said the media are now so ‘rapacious’ that leaders could easily spend all their time dealing with them, and get nothing else done.

And Campbell confirmed that Tony Blair’s priorities became the ‘very big’ decisions, dealing with the media, and then ‘everything else’, in that order.

The consensus advice was to focus on one’s core strategy, with Campbell suggesting there is ‘more strategic space than you first realise’. He gave the example of Bill Clinton’s ability to achieve a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue when he was under incredible media pressure over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

That said, all agree that good comms is ‘everything’. Leighton argues that leadership is 20 per cent strategy and 80 per cent execution, and that comms is the glue between the two. The key, he says, is that ‘what you tell people must be what happens – even if they don’t like it. The media are like everyone else – so don’t lie to them.’

A sterling piece of advice for any of our readers. And maybe a message that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith should take firmly on board as it emerges that this administration has, once again, been economic with the truth about immigration policy.

Will some people never learn?
danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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