Budget 2016: What communications lessons can we learn?

Published: March 17, 2016

“Once media had had the chance to mull over the statements, it was clear the soundbite had failed to land.”

A look at the ‘morning after’ Budget news headlines reveals a startling omission. For those watching as George Osborne took to the despatch box yesterday, there was a clear message reinforced in the Chancellor’s closing remark: “I commend to the House a Budget which puts the next generation first.” The phrase ‘next generation’ was uttered no less than 18 times.

News articles immediately following the Budget used the phrase, but once media had had the chance to mull over the statements, it was clear the soundbite had failed to land. The omission of this and other key phrases from the speech is a reminder that it can be tough to get your key messages reported in the way you intended, whoever you are.

The public had even less time for Mr Osborne’s key phrases. Through analysing social media discussions in the 24 hours following the Budget, we’ve discovered that two of what the Chancellor thought would be his political big hitters, the Budget for the next generation and his ‘Lifetime ISA’ were largely ignored. In social media conversations, the concern centred on further cuts and more taxes and what they would mean for them as individuals.

So what communications lessons can we learn?

1. Listen carefully to your audience before you speak.
We know from analysing online chatter before the Budget that topics such as disability were driving conversations. Yet the Chancellor failed to make any substantive mention of this. Omitting big topics your audience think important could have a negative impact.

2. Remember what people care about most is what impacts them personally.
George Osborne is required to discuss the macroeconomic conditions in the UK in the Budget, but this section was largely ignored on social media. There can be a tendency for spokespeople to forget that what matters to them isn’t necessarily what audiences care about. Our social listening results showed that people reacted much more to how measures introduced in the Budget would affect them on a personal level.

3. Constant evaluation and tweaking of messages is essential.
Before the social media revolution, media coverage was perhaps the strongest indicator of which messages had landed and which hadn’t. Now, through social media listening and evaluation, we can get a much clearer view of how audiences themselves have reacted and use it to inform the way in which we deliver messages the next time around.

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