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Boris is bossing the communications agenda. What can we learn from him?

By Richard Rawlins, Managing director



The Drum Network article

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October 4, 2019 | 4 min read

Political communications strategy has often led our approach in the commercial world.

Finn Comms compare Boris Johnson's communications strategy to the advertising industry and suggest a few tips for marketers to use.

Finn Comms compare Boris Johnson's communications strategy to the advertising industry and suggest a few tips for marketers.

In the 90s, I worked for a client who had been a special adviser at the Department of Culture Media and Sport. He'd learnt his craft from the guru of political communications strategy, Alastair Campbell. We'd spend hours creating messaging grids and scenario planning every possible outcome. Statements were crafted to perfection, we developed pages of Q&A briefings and media trained spokespeople to within an inch of their lives.

If the Blair-Campbell era was one of spin, message discipline and burying bad news, Johnson-Cummings is the polar opposite: unvarnished, provocative and brazen. And way more entertaining.

Love him or loathe him (and I suspect if you're reading this, the latter), Boris and his modern Machiavelli, Dominic Cummings, have a clear and in my opinion successful communications strategy. Why? Because paradoxically, loathing is exactly what he wants right now. The more the better. The more his opposition fulminate and emote, the more appealing he is to his core and the more he nullifies the Brexit party influence. Have you heard from Nigel Farage recently? Nor me, that's why he's demeaning himself to join the B-listers on Question Time on Thursday.

The more Boris' opponents react to him, the more he positions them a parody of themselves: a shrill remain-leaning establishment increasingly desperate to 'deny the people their democratic right'. Rees Mogg’s insouciant lounging on the front benches was the perfect example of this provocative contempt. He's winding them up and right now they're taking the bait.

Could we apply this approach to the commercial world? Of course.

I've long advocated that brands take a position, not a positioning. Stand for something not everything. So often I see a brand try and be all things to all people and that muddled middle ground means it appeals to no-one.

Taking a position informs every strategic decision: the most important being what NOT to do. It also means that on a tactical level our language is honest and precise. It's ok if a consumer thinks the product is shit and voices their opinion on social media. By having a strong view, it's more likely that our fans positive comments will outweigh them anyway. If something goes wrong, we fess up and face it. We have the license to be blunt and plain speaking.

The key is that the leadership of the business believe it and are prepared to stick to it when the chips are down. That can be hard when the lawyers are trying to butcher a response statement into legal blah. It's even harder when you're in the radio studio facing a grilling from a well informed presenter.

Fair play to Boris, he's taking a lot of heat but he's sticking to his guns. (With apologies for using a military metaphor.)

The rules of comms strategy have changed. The middle ground has always been dangerous territory but more then ever, a plan which is clear and polarising is more likely to cut through and be successful.

Richard Rawlins, MD at Finn Comms.


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