Boris Johnson's likely Conservative leadership victory offers comms lessons for CEOs

Edelman's Peter Bellini, former Conservative Party campaign director and Boris Johnson 2008 London Mayoral campaign staffer, tells PRWeek Middle East why Boris Johnson's communication style translates to the corporate world.

You might find it difficult to imagine how Boris Johnson’s communication style translates to the corporate world. To a point you’d be right. 

Emulate him at your next board meeting and you might get bemused looks at best. However, despite occasional bluster and jauntiness of tie and hair there is method beneath the madness. Lessons in brand building, reputation, storytelling and earning attention that can help you protect, build trust, be heard, be memorable, be talked about and be persuasive. 

The importance of a strong brand

Boris’s brand was clear from the start giving him a critical edge. Jeremy Hunt, on the other hand, had to dispel notions he was boring, educate members about his values and ultimately was forced to define himself in terms of Boris rather than his own strengths and vision.

This highlights the advantage of a strong brand which takes time to build. Set your eyes on the long-term. Remember Boris has been aiming for ‘World King’ since the age of five according to his sister.

Boris also minimised damage to his campaign in various forms because he doesn’t preach what he practices. You won’t see Boris moralising over someone’s use of language or choice of extracurricular activities. An important lesson to corporates who seek to enhance their reputation through issues but don’t follow through with action.  

The importance of a narrative and message discipline

Clear messaging, stuck to like a koala to eucalyptus, delivered in a narrative format is key. He tells a story and repeats it. A discipline that has been a trademark of his campaigns since his successful 2008 London Mayoral bid.

Three simple messages hit at the heart of what his audience values; Deliver Brexit, Unite the Party and Defeat Jeremy Corbyn. Simple, recallable, repeatable and made memorable through the narrative of his London victory. A story with two advantages. A perfect triumph over adversity narrative "17 points behind Labour", a story form we all know (David and Goliath), and it proves he can deliver. 

It highlights how he has defeated the Labour left and can do it again, can reach parts of the electorate other Conservatives can’t and delivers on his promises. In contrast, Jeremy Hunt lacked a compelling narrative. 

The importance of the rhetoric

Clear language peppered with epiphora, extended metaphor, smoked fish, euphemism and bdelygmia ensure his words ping. Not all these techniques work well in a corporate setting, but some are worth considering if you want to ensure that your communication is not destined to languish in inboxes.

Boris, like Churchill and Cicero, understands the power of rhetoric to deliver a message. It works. His use of flowery language amongst clear Anglo-Saxon words grabs your attention - like the kipper.  Why call Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist when you can call him a Mugwump!

His mastery of the ancient art of rhetoric and ability to entertain lend themselves perfectly to modern social media. With the media disintermediated earning attention is critical. 

If you’re not entertaining or compelling why would anyone produce or share content about you? Think about how language and visuals can help increase the chance that your message is heard. Now, I’m not suggesting you whip out a live crab at your townhall or wax lyrical about arts and crafts, but we can all do better than PowerPoint slides.

Peter Bellini is a  former Conservative Party campaign director and Boris Johnson 2008 London Mayoral campaign staffer and now director of Edelman’s Reputation practice in the UAE

Thumbnail image or Boris Johnson: GettyImages


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