Truth in comms


To be honest with you…now that’s a phrase you hear too often, and I’m sure I’m guilty of it myself at times. How ridiculous though; does it mean that at any other time you’re not being honest with me?!

Truth and trust

How much do we trust in what we read? Trust and truth go hand in hand, so if we read something we later discover to be untrue, we lose trust in that particular source. If a website publishes something that isn’t true, even a seemingly small and trivial thing, we are unlikely to trust anything within that site. The same goes for any other communications, including marketing, which can have serious consequences for businesses and brands.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Albert Einstein

There’s such a thing as too much honesty

Of course, being truthful doesn’t mean one has to tell the whole truth, and it’s important to be discerning when communicating, especially if it’s to a wide and powerful audience.

Take Gerald Ratner, Chief Executive of a highly successful jewellery empire during the 80s. Everyone knew Ratners was a budget chain, and that was the reason for its success. That is until Mr Ratner decided to be too honest and announced to the Institute of Directors that:

“People say, ‘how can you sell this for such a low price?’

“I say, ‘because it’s total crap.’

That single comment, despite being something consumers already really knew deep down, destroyed the chain’s reputation overnight, and the company almost collapsed.

Hidden truths

Most people consider themselves to be honest, and I think that the majority of us are naturally and instinctively honest, even if we don’t necessarily mean to be! It is said for example that a novelist’s first book almost always contains a great deal of autobiographical truths – even if they are cleverly, and perhaps unknowingly, disguised.

We can use the same approach for communicating sensitive or volatile information. It’s not always appropriate to be completely blunt, but by hiding a harsh truth within carefully crafted words, we can get the message across gently, minimising any negative reaction and enabling the reader to digest and reflect on the information more positively.

Opinions and facts

“The truth is never pure and rarely simple.”
Oscar Wilde

There are very few absolute truths. The majority of what we read is at least loosely based on personal opinion. Some things of course are facts, but we must be careful in our communications to ensure that our opinions are not portrayed as such. When we say “I think…” or “in my opinion…” we are letting our readers know that they can trust us. We are saying we may not be certain of the absolute truth, but this is an idea for them to consider.

People often respond better to ideas than they do to facts. They don’t always appreciate being told something, but ideas give them the freedom to think for themselves. Such careful comms can manipulate people into agreeing with you – by giving people a truth in the form of an idea, you are allowing them to think for themselves, enabling them believe that your idea was in fact their idea all along.

So, if we expect to be able to believe what we read, then we also have a duty to ensure truthfulness in what we write. In order to gain the trust of our readers and build a reputation for being a valid source of information, we must rely on truth at all times.


Photo credit: littleBIGsis

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Jules is an executive PA and also runs the largest eraser emporium in the world (AFAIK) and you can find out more at
Jules manages FirstSigns with me, and is a keen writer with an eye for detail like an electron microscope.

The disappearance of front page news – how do your readers find your intranet news stories?

Design, Intranet

News stories on my intranet ‘fall off‘ the front page after two days and ‘disappear’; at least as far as my readers are concerned. Here one day, gone the next.

news-ball“Did you see that article about our pay offer? No? Oh well, you missed it.”

With all my reading, all my research, all my networking, I have failed to discover or develop a better system than the ‘news archive‘.

News stories are presented on the front page of my intranet, but physically reside within a year, month and week structure. Think ‘folders in a folder’. Basic web design; basic information architecture: Intranet Home/News/2009/August/10 August

The News Archive holds stories from last week and way back to years before. I think it’s easy to get to because the breadcrumb trail is easy to use and lets people ‘go back in time’. I also provide a direct link to the News Archive section from the footer of every news story.

Yet, I’m wrong; the News Archive is not easy to find. People tell me that in all the years the intranet has been running, they’ve never seen the Archive.

Continue reading …

Cancelled, due to lack of interest

Communications, Design, Rants

How often have you seen events cancelled apparently due to a lack of interest, as if the absent audience are to blame?

What nonsense. Events are cancelled for three reasons, none of which are the fault of the expected but missing participants.

1 It’s not interesting

This is different from saying “no one was interested”. The event just doesn’t strike many people as being useful, or even attractive, to them. The event organisers and promoters have failed to make the event relevant to the market. Perhaps they didn’t even bother working out who the target partcipants were, and pitched their promotion at ‘everyone’ and so spoke to ‘no one’.

2 Poor promotion and communications

Regardless of how useful and mind bendingly relevant an event might be, if no one hears about it, it will still fail.
Engaging people and persuading them to act takes more than a generic email or web page asking them to set aside a date in their diary. To help people take action we need to entice and inform them over several days and weeks using several channels. A poster in the canteen isn’t enough.

3 Hurdles to signing up

Some events are both interesting and well promoted, but then throw hurdles in front of the prospective participant. Perhaps the event organiser insists that prospective participants must snail mail their details, instead of providing an email and a number. Maybe sign-up is via the web (yay!) but the form demands your birthdate and annual income. Such personal details are unnecessary under the Data Ptotection Act and asking for superfluous personal details is very intrusive and likely to offend.

Don’t blame the audience

Event organisers must take responsibility for their failures as well as successes.

If your conference, talk, training or group discussion isn’t interesting, useful and relevant to people then why are you bothering to promote it?

If it’s life-shatteringly good then why aren’t you doing weeks of multi-channel promotion?

Get it right, don’t blame the audience for their “lack of interest”.


Today’s article was written on my iPhone while travelling to Exeter

Would you like a plain sponge, or a rich chocolate cake?


We know that the ‘bare bones’ of Good Comms must include accurate, relavant, timely and concise details with enough context to help everyone understand the situation – but there’s another concept that should play a part, and it’s my favourite because I believe it has a real emotional impact on people – richness.