• Karabo Moola

Are the ‘experts’ damaging their reputations?

Jeremy Briar asks, "Does the President need more letters from them?

I find it fascinating how many experts there are right now. In fact, it seems most people I come into contact with are experts, particularly on COVID-19, its impact, our futures. What it talks to is our need to be heard, to dispense advice. And I pity the President because lately he’s been getting a lot of unsolicited advice from the experts.

Let's be clear, these letters to the president are not quietly mailed to him late at night after reflecting seriously on the state we’re in. Rather these are letters published very vocally to reach as many people as possible. Their aim is to influence.

But influence who exactly? I am often not quite sure.

I think it is interesting to consider what motivates people to ‘write’ to the President; what qualifies them to dispense the advice they do; and what they want to achieve by doing so. Often the suitability of the author to the subject matter seems tenuous.

I am inclined to pay heed to a piece from a business leader at the coalface musing on the impact of COVID-19 on their business, or a concerned group of actuaries forecasting (along with everyone else) a dismal future for us post COVID-19. They’re sticking to their knitting.

But of late some of our letter writers seem to be drawn from the I-made-a-lot-of-money, ran-a- business, have-a-lot-of-followers school of expertise; so the President should listen to what I have to say.

And this is where we start hitting shaky ground. Two most recent high profile letters from Gareth Cliff and Mike Abel are instructive. What would I expect in a letter from the CEO of an ad agency or a broadcaster / TV personality? Well, maybe some considered opinion on messaging and how well or poorly the government is doing on that front; or perhaps how broadcasting and media are on their knees right now and what needs to be done.

But we didn't get that.

We got them weighing in very generally on the state we are in and I struggled to see what they added to the debate; and importantly what did they want to get out of this. (As my advertising friend said, “it seemed to lack what advertising calls ‘a call to action’ - what does Mike want to happen?”)

I think they achieved one (their only?) aim - for their letter to the President to be read by many more than just the President and to a great cheer from some quarters. But in fact, more importantly, their arguments were undercut with some very considered (and some tongue in cheek*) criticism which mostly questioned their credibility and authority to talk on the subject.

And to me that really cuts to the heart of influence. You have to have the trust of your audience for them to believe you can credibly communicate on the subject. Without that you damage your reputation - the very thing in fact that they sought to enhance.

So if you’re wanting your message to land, make sure you have the right person landing it.

Let's stop cutting down more digital trees to publish yet more unneeded content.

Next time maybe just send the President a postcard.

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