Who is Britain’s best communicator?
27th March 2013
PR leaders argue over who are the best communicators in Britain today, from Simon Cowell to Vince Cable. But Tony Blair fails to get any votes.
Nigel Pipkin, PR director at communications agency Seal, argues the case for the modern-day Svengali that is Simon Cowell:
“Simon Cowell has shown you don’t have to be liked to be a great communicator. He has been brilliantly successful over many years, knowing when to dip in and dip out of the limelight to maintain his brand and help his business. He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the past decade and more! ‘Simon says’ used to be just a children’s playground game. Now it’s a phrase that generates front page headlines, decides who wins awards (arguably) and has major celebrities quaking asking ‘Have I got a job next week?’ Like Richard Branson, Cowell is not afraid to take the Mickey out of himself. In fact he revels in it. Look at Comic Relief when he married his perfect bride – himself! The guy is a genius in high-waisted trousers.”
Boris Johnson … and possibly Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband
He may have recently given a “car-crash” interview with Eddie Mair on the BBC, but Boris Johnson still gets a vote of confidence from Phil Hall, chairman of PR agency PHA media:
“The best communicator in Britain is Boris Johnson, a man who can mix humour with wisdom and policy with self-deprecation. The interesting challenge he will face in the coming months and years though is will that disarming approach work on the bigger stage. It is one thing being self-effacing when talking about bicycles or the Olympic Games in London, it is quite another when discussing nuclear disarmament or some of the major issues facing the world economy.
“Richard Branson would push Johnson a close second in my view because of his huge confidence is any project he is leading. We should also not forget the extraordinary performances of Nick Clegg in the prime ministerial debates a couple of years ago. When I have seen him at private events he is extremely engaging.
“David Cameron, however, who was as polished a narrator as anyone on the public stage, has a desperation about him caused by a crash in confidence and as such he is struggling to deliver the message for his government. Time will tell, but as he lightens up and grows in stature, I think we may yet see Ed Miliband surprising a few people.”
What makes a good communicator?
Pete Hendrick, managing director of PR agency Rocket, votes for Vince:
“Tony Blair’s consistently polished delivery manner has sparked more negative than positive reaction in my opinion. Since his time at the top, the public has learned to see through the usual tricks of the PR trade and is now more concerned with the one thing we communications professionals find hardest to instil in our spokespeople – authenticity.
“Vince Cable is my current favourite communicator. Perhaps an unlikely choice, but his skill lies in the way he responds to questioning. No matter how tough the question, Cable isn’t afraid to answer truthfully. That direct, honest approach makes him seem sincere, and that’s a quality we PROs need to drum in to our spokespeople, not draw out."
Why Tony Blair and Richard Branson are has-beens
Anthony Dalton, director at agency Parys Communications says that Tony Blair and Richard Branson show how it used to be done, but we expect more these days:
“Tony Blair was indeed a good communicator. Everyone remembers the smile and hand gesture, and he delivered his message in a way which, at the time, had voters swooning. However, in retrospect I think there was a certain amount of halo effect from the fact that he positioned himself as an agent for change at a time when the country was going through a remarkably prosperous time. I also think history will see him differently, which is a reminder that reputation is not a transient asset.
“Having interviewed Richard Branson as a young journalist, I can confirm that he was also definitely a charismatic communicator. He was one of those people who seems to be able to instantly build a rapport with the press, even as a rookie reporter. That was some time ago however. Nowadays, I think we live in a far more media-savvy environment where people are fatigued by overly polished politicians and business leaders who deliver the same messages in metronomic fashion. I think that there is a developing need for communicators who can come across as open, enthusiastic and passionate, while still staying on message. Credibility has become more of a factor than just simply ‘selling a message’.”
Written by Daney Parker