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Communicator of the Week: John Lewis

Symbolism and virtue signalling have become increasingly common in the political world. Having 5000 retweets or 500 ‘friends’ agreeing with an opinion on Facebook is seen by some unsophisticated politicos as proof of a genuine connection with the electorate. In reality all they are seeing is an echo-chamber effect as virtuous opinions are embraced by those already converted to your cause or campaign.

I’ve noticed signalling and populist symbolism creeping into how the business world communicates too - mostly when business and politics meet (such as the vacuous #LondonIsOpen campaign) - as a way to define a brand or try to be different.

An announcement today was the perfect opportunity for a major UK retailer to dispense with message discipline and ignore its brand positioning. There are only seven female CEOs of FTSE100 companies I’ll do the maths for you, that’s only 7 per cent. So the appointment of a woman to a senior position in any company - but particularly one as successful as John Lewis - is going to get covered by the media focussing on that fact - The Guardian and BBC have not disappointed.

To their great credit, it appears that the communications team at John Lewis recognised this would happen. The press release announcing Paula Nickolds will become the new John Lewis managing director in January focussed around the company’s key messages of transformation, innovation but also continuity of the John Lewis values. They also talked of her achievements since joining the firm as a graduate trainee without feeling the need to mention that she is the first woman to lead John Lewis in its history. On message, on brand and not desperately seeking approval through symbolism. For that John Lewis is my Communicator of the Week.

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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