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According to Coral Communication's Nick Barnes, remembering the basics is the best approach in this world of rampant technology.


Fresh after the long festive break and looking ahead to what 2015 might hold, you may feel the inevitable pull of new technologies and alternative ways for communicating your organisations’ messages. 

My advice – resist and focus on getting the basics right first.  Embed in your mind the simple mantra that what employees’ desire most is for someone to tell them what their job is, how they’re doing and how it relates to the bigger picture. And that your organisation simply desires good staff to stick around, to work hard, to be flexible and to be external ambassadors.


The Blu-tack test

Try putting a piece of Blu-tack on the end of your nose.  You’ll notice a blurred blue blob right in front of you. Give it a couple of minutes and the distraction will disappear. Not because it has fallen off your nose but because your mind has quickly learnt to blank it out.

Our brains are designed to do that; they sift through the millions of visual, audible and verbal messages we receive each day and screen out the ordinary, the familiar and the pale.

Instead, it is the new and the vivid that shout out for our attention. But something new today is old tomorrow and the brain learns to adapt. So the Blu-tack, by now virtually invisible to our minds, has to be replaced by something else to grab our attention.

There is no doubting that we are in an information age, where businesses and the media are regularly going to extremes and exploring new ways to get the attention of the paying public.  And it is no different inside large organisations, who, when it comes to new media technologies, are just as prone to fads as individuals.  Information points and walls are full of posters and inboxes are snarled up with emails, all of which contain information ranging from need-to-know to business critical.

So with all this information and technology, it is vital that we remember the rules and principles of good communication and our role in making sure we design and deliver messages that get seen and heard.


Five principles of good communication


1. Talk your audience’s language

Communicators have to understand their target audience – what issues interest, excite or frustrate. It is not enough to just have the demographics – age, sex, type of job, etc. We have to understand their cultural background; what newspapers they read, how they socialise and what they watch on TV.

We also need to dig deeper and find out all about their working day – how they get their information, what are their concerns, gripes and bug bears.  It pays to know exactly how your audience is thinking and feeling. This helps define your messages and how you communicate them.

Of course, it is also important to remember not everyone in a large group is going to be the same. That is human nature. Having a good insight into the variety of your audience helps you use your channels and language effectively.


2. Catch their eye

More than ever before, internal communicators are required to use creative tactics to make sure their messages cut through in a world full of information and multi-channel marketing.   As a general rule, communications need to pass the 3 and 8 second test. 

3 seconds:  they need to be visually captivating and appealing, incorporating powerful images with bold typography which catch the eye.

8 seconds: And they need to achieve real ‘cut-through’ with your audience so that someone picks up what you’re trying to say and understands your core message.

Give it a try: Grab some communication materials, scatter them on a table and see which item or items most quickly leap out at you. Those ones that do pass the 3 second test. Study the ones that don’t and figure out the common themes on both sides.  Do the same with the 8 second test.


3. Keep your audience with you

Now you have got their attention you have to keep it. The ‘stickiness’ of your messages depends on how well you are able to keep your audience interested. 

  • Involve people – ask for people’s opinions and ideas engages them more than having them passively receive information. It is this interaction or ‘call to action’ that, above all, can keep them engaged with what you’ve got to say.
  • Entertain audiences – make an emotional connection that your audience can relate to. Touching on people’s emotions is a powerful way of holding their attention.
  • Humanise messages – use real case studies and real people whose experiences your audience relate to. Using other people to demonstrate your messages through their own words and actions is much more powerful than just saying it.


4. Keep it going

One-off, stand-alone communications rarely work.  Communications to a target audience generally need to be carefully and tactically planned, and often work better as one long campaign, rather than a series of set-piece, one-off events.  It is critical to keep reiterating messages: not once, but several times and through a variety of mediums.

We need to avoid the trap of seeing communicating messages as a ‘tick box exercise’.  Unless messages are repeated and replicated in a range of other media, the organisation will most likely have wasted a lot of time and money.

A good example of this is when organisations hold large all-employee events or briefings. The effects can be powerful in the short- term – people can go away with a sense of purpose, some understanding of the key messages and a bit of a motivational boost. Often, organisations then leave it at that and don’t keep the momentum going to reinforce the messages.


5. Tell a story

Capturing and distilling messages in a clear simple narrative adds clarity to any communication campaign.  It helps get your messages into a logical order with a plot that can be clearly followed and that answers all the key questions of why, what, who, when, where and how.

Clearly articulated, compelling narratives help people transition though their journey and help bring messages to life.  Like everything we do in communications however, the complexity of any story or narrative is in its simplicity.


Final word

Many communicators in all kinds of organisations are making extensive use of new media technologies in their work.  Their novelty means they pass the Blu-tack test; they have the freshness to cut through the heft of stale communications that people receive every day. They have an immediacy and a level of informality which appeals to people on a more personal level and can make communications look more relevant. Used well, to communicate the right material, there is no doubt that new media can be effective, but their natural advantages of novelty and immediacy alone cannot guarantee success.

For any communication to be successful, it has to be effective, and this means sticking to the principles of good communication. This is just as true for communication through new channels as it is for more traditional channels.  If communicators follow these simple rules and treat new channels with the same rigour as more traditional ones, rather than seeing novelty alone as the key to good communication, they are more likely to create good communications that engage the audience, hold their attention and get the message across well.



Nick Barnes is a specialist in measuring people engagement, with more than 10 years agency experience supporting some of the world’s best known and most complex organisations, including HSBC, BP, Travelocity and BAA.  Nick has extensive experience working in and in close partnership with HR and Corporate Communications, in the areas of measurement , strategy creation and brand,.  Nick spent 11 years in London before moving to Australia in 2012 to establish Coral Communications.  Nick believes strongly in partnering with people to develop and deliver complimentary and sustainable communications and measurement strategies.


Helping people in business thrive! 

At Coral, we partner with people; likeminded professionals who are passionate about creating an environment where people can thrive.  We help connect a business with its people.  How do we do this?  By restoring the balance to your communications processes; activating brands in the hearts and minds of people; holding the mirror on what matters most; and releasing creativity by navigating the path to innovation.