PR Coach (PRC): What you’ll often hear is that it’s all about getting your policies across to the public. But obviously that’s complete tripe. If you did that it would be a disaster.
Politician (P): Hmm. Not quite sure I understand you.
PRC: Remind me what you’re proposing again.
P: Well, we’re giving parents the right to request that their children stay in school for longer hours, including breakfast and after-school hours. Holidays as well. Extending the wraparound in other words.
PRC: And what is the purpose of that?
P: To increase the time children spend at school, and to get parents to work longer hours.
PRC: Sure. Now that’s the policy, but it’s not the message that you want to get across, right?
P: Isn’t it?
PRC: Well of course not. If you we’re to put that message out there by itself, it could well end up backfiring spectacularly. By itself it might just leave people with the suspicion that your aim is simply to get them to pay more tax, and spend less time with their children. And nobody’s going to buy that are they?
P: I see. So we’ve got to make the message more palatable?
P: But how do we do that?
PRC: The main thing is to make them think you’re on their side. Make them feel that you understand them, that you identify with them and that you’re working in the best interests of them and their children.
PRC: And so there are certain words and phrases that you might want to use.
P: Such as?
PRC: No, I want this to come from you. You hired me as a PR coach, not as a speech writer, remember? But I’ll give you a clue. What you need to be aiming for is some sort of compliment or approbation of the types of people who might end up going along with the policy.
P: Okay, I think I understand you. So perhaps I should say something about the kind of family that this applies to.
PRC: Try it.
P: Okay. How about if I call them “good families”? Does that work?
PRC: Oh dear. All the subtlety of a rhinoceros at a tea party that one. Everyone would see through it I’m afraid.
P: How about “Families that work hard?”
PRC: Better. But is it catchy? Is it snappy? Will anyone remember it?
P: Okay, point taken. Hey I think I’ve got it. How about if I refer to them as “Hard working families”. How does that sound?
PRC: Brilliant. Well done. It’s short and snappy. It’s memorable. And above all it’s powerful. Who doesn’t want to be known as a “hard working family”?
P: Hang on a moment, though. Before we get carried away, there might be a problem. Won’t describing the type of family that buys into this as “hard working” alienate those who currently would feel a little bit guilty about seeing their children even less?
PRC: Of course. That’s the intention.
P: The intention? But how is that going to work? Won’t it just annoy them and make them unlikely to buy our plan?
PRC: I think you misunderstand. Look, there is a certain sort of family out there who will never buy your wares. However hard you try to convince them that sending their kids into the hands of the State from 7 in the morning to 7 at night is a good idea, they’re never going to go for it. They still believe in motherhood and family and all that jazz. So they’ll see through your plan and call you a Marxoid no matter how well you present it. Stating that this deal is for “hard-working” families won’t have the slightest effect on them, other than making them feel you’re an even bigger and more patronising charlatan than they had previously taken you for. But you don’t care for their opinion I trust?
P: No of course not. But won’t I alienate others?
PRC: Not at all. Quite the opposite in fact. There are many out there who would never have dreamt that seeing their kids for just half an hour a day was actually in their interests, if they’d been left alone that is. But unlike the hardcore types, so long as you couch your message in the right way you can win them over.
P: By making them feel guilty.
PRC: Precisely. A phrase like “hard working families” will make them feel anxious. Are we doing the right thing? Is this what “hard-working” families do? That sort of thing.
P: I see. So we’re sort of playing on people’s pride – don’t want to be outside the group of “hard-working families” – and I suppose the fear of feeling like they’re weird.
PRC: I think maybe you’re getting the hang of this.
P: But even so, we still need to persuade them – these “hard working families” – to give up their kids for even more hours. How do we do that?
PRC: Think about what you’re trying to achieve. Your aim is to persuade them to work more and see their kids less. Yet you need to convince them that this is the right thing to do. The good life, in other words.
P: That doesn’t sound easy.
PRC: Nobody ever said it would be. But we can be thankful that we’re not making this up from scratch. Those who have gone before you have done a remarkable job in softening people up for this. Now, why don’t you have a go?
P: Well… perhaps we could try something like this: “We really don’t trust you to bring up your own kids, you being too stupid, and so we’re going to come up with more and more condescending ways to get you to give them up, so that they can be educated by us – the experts – just like those visionaries, Plato and Marx, envisioned. Oh, and while we’re doing it, we’re going to convince you this really is in your interests.”
PRC: Excuse me???
P: Sorry. Joke! Bad taste probably.
PRC: Yes it was rather.
P: What about “By extending the wraparound scheme, we’ll be doing what is best for your children”?
PRC: A little overdone, I think. You don’t want them to think that you think you know best. What you are aiming for is for them to think that you think that they know best. Remember, the key is to make them believe what they’re doing is really in their interests, and that you are here simply to help them. Right?
P: Got it. So let‘s try, “Ensuring children get the best start in life is…is…”
PRC: Go on, you’re nearly there.
P: “is…is…at the heart of our plans.”
PRC: Bingo! Now put it all together.
P: “Ensuring children get the best start in life is at the heart of our plans. We want to help hard-working parents with their childcare plans, so we will give families the right to request that their schools provide childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays.” How does that work?
PRC: Perfect. Now go out and sell it to ‘em.