Message building is an art not a science but one of the key elements is being able to find quotable language. For students of message building and the crafted quote (or ‘sizzle’ as we call it), the Brexit referendum in the UK is proving a wonderful real-time case study.
Message building is art not science
Coming up with great quotes day after day must be keeping the spin-doctors and speech writers very busy but here are a few of our favourites.
George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Brexit would cause ‘profound economic shock’.
Chris Grayling, Cabinet Minister
‘The Commission’s locker is full of new ideas and new plans. If we vote to remain, the door of that locker will be opened wide the day after.’
David Cameron, UK Prime Minister
Brexit would be the ‘gamble of the century’.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
‘Let us say knickers to the pessimists and the merchants of gloom’.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party
Corbyn warned that a Conservative government would take the opportunity of Brexit to slash protection for workers, in a ‘bonfire of rights’.
William Keegan, Guardian writer
Brexit would be ‘a messy divorce and very hard on the children’.
Stephan Crabb, Cabinet Minister
Brexit would amount to an ‘act of self-harm’
Message building with numbers
Gisela Stuart, Co-Chair of Vote Leave
‘Every week we send £350m to Brussels. I’d rather that we control how to spend that money, and if I had that control I would spend it on the NHS.’ Note that here Stuart goes for the numbers rather than the quotable language. The Leave campaign has had a lot of success with the £350m a week figure; even though it has been debunked several times (as here), it continues to be used repeatedly.
Message building: use judgement and caution in crafting the quote
Earlier he used the quote that leaving the EU would be ‘like a prisoner escaping jail’. Boris also often uses expletives that others in public life avoid as here in the Express. He is one of the most quotable politicians but it has got him into deep trouble in the past. He once had to apologise to the whole of Liverpool after accusing them of ‘wallowing in grief’ over the death of a local man beheaded by militants in Iraq. Nowadays, he is more disciplined and uses his flowery language to more strategic political effect.
The Chancellor has also dubbed Pro-Brexit advocates as ‘economically illiterate’. Earlier he said leaving the EU would be ‘political arson’. We are watching Osborne closely. He used to be an unimpressive media performer but, presumably as part of his preparation to be a contender for Prime Minister, he has put a lot of effort into improving his communication skills. He is much better at the crafted quote than his boss and ex PR man David Cameron.
This august body claimed the UK’s exit from EU could cause ‘severe regional and global damage’. Here we see a ‘serious’ international organisation being cautious with its language but as a result most people will have missed their important intervention.
Aaron Banks, Leave campaigner
‘Freedom has never been so cheap’. He was commentating on the Stay campaigns figure that the cost of leaving the EU would amount to 21p per household per day.
Metaphors widely used in message building
Put them all together like this and firstly you can see how spin doctors love metaphor and simile. Second, it looks idiotic and superficial but remember these phrases were just one element in a wider interview or speech. It is the element designed to be quoted by the journalists. These phrases are the sign-posts in the argument. There is plenty of detail out there to substantiate the headlines. While the quotes may annoy the academically minded purists we should not kid ourselves that people would choose, without them, to wade through the IMF or Treasury reports on impact of staying or going.
Learn to craft a good quote and as a PR or speech writer you will go far.
Message building and The Media Coach
We run message building workshops to help organisations plan external communications. We also have a twitter account @mediasizzle that just picks up examples of quotable language.
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