Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy, a leading provider of public relations and communication education. Her special areas of interest are internal communication and project communication.
Ann leads PR Academy’s CIPR internal comms certificate.
There I was, cruising up the M20 in Kent – can’t remember where I was going – when I see the overhead gantry displaying the following message: “X means lane closed” with the X in bright red.
Ooh I thought, is there a lane closure coming up? Like the good and careful driver that I am, I slowed down, but no, there was no lane closure. Hmm, very odd, so on I go, only to find that a bit later along the M25 the same sign is showing. And then the next day on another journey, I see it again.
At this point, the penny drops – someone is helpfully informing me that a red cross is the symbol for a lane closure. Now, while I may not always be the sharpest tool in the box, I think even I could work that one out.
So, why the rant about motorway signs? Well, there is just so much to learn from one simple message…..
You need a channel strategy: what are these overhead signs for and why does it matter? Well, to me they are for important messages that I need to read – perhaps the M25 is closed, there are debris or people working. Thing is, once they are used for general and non-essential messages I switch off and stop looking because I would rather focus on the road. That way I will miss something really important. So the lesson is that it is crucial that we are clear about what our own communication channels are for and stick to the strategy.
Every communication needs an objective: there should be an objective behind every communication. I simply don’t believe that motorists don’t understand that an X means lane closed. So what was the point of it? I suspect that it is because lots of cheeky motorists still use lanes when they are marked as closed. Of course this isn’t because they don’t get the X – it’s because they think they can queue jump!
Communication must be relevant and timely: I was a bit baffled when I first saw the sign because I couldn’t work out why I was being told the bloomin’ obvious. The message was neither relevant nor timely. The result was that I was irritated and – rather like with the channel strategy point above – I then just switched off to it.
Telling someone something lots of times doesn’t make it effective: if a message isn’t relevant and timely – which this one wasn’t – it doesn’t matter how many times you say something, people aren’t going to take any notice let alone change their behaviour.
Has a piece of poorly targeted communication baffled or irritated you recently ?