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You can't put lipstick on a pig


Today marks the start of the Chinese new year. A day when people from all over the world will be celebrating the year of the pig. At genie, we wanted to mark the occasion too.

One of my favourite expressions in comms is, 'you can't put lipstick on a pig,' to which I have often heard Helen, my partner and fellow genie reply, 'yes, but you can throw glitter at it.' It's this attitude that makes us who we are. There is a mindset at genie that there is no business problem that can't be improved by communication activity. We might not make the problem disappear, but we can definitely help you, your customers and colleagues feel that little bit better about it.


I think this phrase best describes how people feel when things are going a little bit wrong for an organisation.


Business problem - operational challenges

A well known business that I was working for was having some challenges operationally. The CEO took the very difficult decision that it would need to close nearly 90% of its retail branches and invest in a different way of working. As with the rest of the high street, it needed to become digital. This meant a huge loss in terms of jobs - close to 2000. In the media, there was a danger that this could be perceived as the business struggling financially, that it had no future. For customers, this could create real uncertainty and reduce trust in the brand. It felt like there was no way we could dress this up.


Our solution - a transparent approach to storytelling

The only way to make this situation feel better was to be well prepared, joined up and transparent in our story. I set to work crafting a joined up plan, with key messages for use internally, externally and via our social media channels. As in all good communication, the messaging was honest. It wouldn't promise the world to the people who would inevitably leave, but it did create a compelling story as to why the change was required.


From a consumer's viewpoint, the story made complete sense. Nobody was buying from the branch network any more. The model needed to change to create a sustainable future for the organisation. The business would have to move away from the notion that it was 'closing branches' and towards the idea that it was 'investing in future sustainability.' The messaging and plan would become 'taking the best of what we had before, and building a platform on which to grow.'

You can't put lipstick on a pig!

Three top tips!

1. Be prepared

2. Have a clear story

3. Be honest and clear in your reasoning


Results

The change programme was really well received. The sentiment across all the press coverage was 89% neutral. We saw an increase in employee engagement scores, with some verbatim comments around being respected and treated like adults.


The moral of the story for me is that we shouldn't be afraid of change. There are usually good reasons for it. Our role as communications professionals is to help businesses to find and tell that story.


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