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Your purpose is as important as your message – just ask Gordon Brown

More than four million people living in Scotland go to the polls today to decide the United Kingdom’s future.

Much has been written by my professional peers about the communications lessons we can learn from the Yes and No referendum campaigns. It’s been thrilling to see how a mix of social media and traditional campaigning methods have engaged a massive proportion of Scotland’s population in the democratic process. Especially younger people, often written off as apathetic and disengaged from politics.

But the final day of the campaigning reminded me of another important communications principle – and not a new one. Four years after an ignominious exit from office, Gordon Brown has been trending overnight and much of today, after a barnstormer of a speech at the final Better Together rally of the campaign.

The question being asked by people from Twitter to the broadsheets was why we never saw this side of Gordon during his short and best-forgotten tenure as Prime Minister?

Steve Richards in the Guardian suggests a number of reasons for this, all of them plausibly entwined with the deal-making and fear-driven calculations that must bedevil any political leader, especially one who wasn’t voted into office at a General Election.

Perhaps it is the case that once Gordon was in a position to stop worrying about all that, he found his PURPOSE – a cause that he not only felt passionately about, but for which he could work out a strategy that could win the day (though we’ll see tomorrow whether it worked…).

Being a PR professional, supporting your organisation’s leaders, tests and develops your ability to coach. This is especially true when your director or CEO is making an important speech, or facing a tricky media interview, or – that new test of nerve – undergoing trial by Select Committee. We all know delivery is as important as the message. When we’re briefing and coaching our leaders and clients ahead of that speech, announcement or interview, it’s not always enough to make sure they’re ‘on message’.

Winning the day means also understanding the PURPOSE behind the message. This means asking – and making sure both you and your spokesperson can answer – questions like:

  • Why do I care about this? What makes this worthy of my best effort?
  • What am I doing to make sure what I say is going to hit home?


Knowing the answers to these will help you persuade others. And it is worth it. Whether Gordon has or hasn’t won it for Better Together, thanks to his efforts this week, there’s a chance history may treat him a little more kindly now…