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Why it’s always good to test-drive your communications
Whether you love or loathe the advertising industry, there’s one thing they’re good at: controlling every aspect of the messages they deliver. So it was a bit of a surprise – okay, it was fun – to find a lapse in the industry’s ‘we-think-of-everything’ professionalism. At Findel airport in Luxembourg, there’s an escalator down to the gates. Right over the escalator is an impressive multi-screen video display. Even more impressive is the location. There’s nothing else to look at, and your hands are too
full of carry-on baggage to reach for your smartphone. Whoever sited that display here knew what they were doing. So far, so controlled. That goes for the messages too – an endless loop of pleasant but generic images and words of welcome. Imagine my surprise, then, when this slick, efficient, hi-tech communication machine wished me “a peasant flight”. I looked again. Yup. Peasant. Was this their way of saying they knew I was flying economy? Okay, we all know they meant “pleasant”. They even wrote “pleasant”. But, as luck would have it, the “l” landed right in the gap between two screens, rendering it invisible. Oops. Most likely, this was a simple case of nobody telling the graphic designer where the screen gaps fell because nobody saw the potential for trouble. But whatever
The dinosaur in the room Last year I went to an HR conference in the UK full of inspiring talk about employee engagement, the war for talent, and how HR should take the boardrooms of Britain by storm. But all the while, noone seemed to notice the dinosaur in the room plaintively waving a faded red flag with the words ‘What about the unions?’ embroidered on it. The unions were mentioned hardly at all. British unions may be unpopular with the right-wing press in the UK, but they still represent a quarter of the national workforce, well over six million people, and few of these are intent on fomenting revolution and hanging capitalists from lampposts. In fact, the CIPD, the main UK body for HR professionals, reports that its members are generally happy with the industrial partnerships that have been built up since the confrontational days of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Strong partnerships between man66 | Issue 24 | December 2015
agement and unions benefit everyone in all sorts of ways and some unions are changing, for example by working for improvements in local communities, not just in the workplace. In the UK, union learning reps are doing more than anyone else to eradicate the shame of a national workforce functional illiteracy rate of 20 per cent. Union confederations campaign to protect workers’ rights at European and international level. Indeed, if I had to give just one reason why we need stronger unions globally, I would say ‘Rana Plaza’: that’s the building that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, killing 1,134 garment workers, the logical outcome of a process of denial of employee rights. But I’m worried about my dinosaur. Dinosaurs do, after all, have a habit of becoming extinct. UK union membership today is half the 1979 figure. Male, pale and stale union leaders do not inspire younger workers who only have a hazy notion of
TEXT & PHOTO: JOSIAH FISK
the cause, the solution is the same: you test-drive your communication. You look it over and read it from the viewpoint of the user. You question your assumptions relentlessly. And you check out the product in situ. That way you can truly know what the audience is seeing. And if there’s a problem, you’ll be the first one to spot it. Instead of the last.
Josiah Fisk is the head of More Carrot LLC, a clear communications company with offices in Boston and Luxembourg.
TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
what a union is. Unions need to reinvent themselves, to drag themselves from the 19th century into the 21st and to make their organisations exciting to belong to. If they could learn to support the young, the precariously employed and the unemployed, the service worker as well as the manufacturing and public sector worker, I believe they could once again become a great force for good – locally, nationally and internationally.
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, now based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: email@example.com; www.coachingyork.co.uk/item/steve-flinders/