Personal Branding - An Interview with the Communications Director of the Vote Leave Campaign

Personal Branding - An Interview with the Communications Director of the Vote Leave Campaign

Hakan Enver 06.07.2017

Hakan Enver takes it back to basics with Paul Stephenson, Director of Communications for the Vote Leave campaign and co-founder of Hanbury Strategy, discussing the importance of personal branding in the employment market and best practices from his experience of swaying the nation’s opinion on Brexit.

What was the starting point in the Vote Leave campaign? 

Hanbury Strategy

Use research and data. Vote Leave messaging was based on extensive research. We knew which phrases were most effective and who to target them at. We used data science to hone these targets as we learned more and more about the electorate. Being flexible in our targeting was important, but it was always based on reliable scientific evidence.

 So the same could be applied to a job search?

The importance of research is no different for any potential employee. Make sure you know your subject and your CV inside out. What is the company looking for? What questions are they likely to ask you?
 
In fact the same can also be said for employers. Big data is a treasure chest for identifying trends and habits of consumers. Delving into the detail of your customer base can help you better understand their needs, what drives them, and how you can improve the service you provide.
 
This data can equally be used to try to attract the right employees. We used data to create audience types that we knew would be more likely to support our campaign. Once we had created that data profile we were then able to target those types of people online and to encourage them to sign up to our campaign. Companies should consider a similar exercise to help them identify potential new recruits. Identifying common characteristics of great employees and then trying to find those people online could be a great way to improve your workforce. The importance of research is no different for any potential employee. Make sure you know your subject and your CV inside out. What is the company looking for? What questions are they likely to ask you?

How did you use the research to create a persona for the brand Vote Leave?

We quickly established what motivated our voters and what was most persuasive to them. They felt that the EU was remote, out of touch and that it benefitted rich people from London with yachts but was not good for ordinary people on PAYE. That’s why our message focused on encouraging people to take back control and we motivated them to join us by urging them to help us take on the establishment and win. Our people were much more motivated than the other side and that translated into more leaflets being handed out, more doors being knocked on and eventually more votes.  It was a victory for the little guy over the big vested interests in our country who do ‘very well, thank you very much’ out of the status quo.

What advice could you give to job seekers on building their personal brand?

Be honest with yourself, assess your strengths and weaknesses and use your experiences to tell a credible story that is compelling to an employer. There is nothing to be gained from telling tall tales. It might work for five minutes but you won’t last five hours in the job if you have mis-sold yourself. So start by critically evaluating what you are good at and what you are not good at. Think through examples of where you have done a really good job - whether in the workplace or from your time in education - and use those to back up the story that you want to tell to employers. The most powerful phrase in the English language is: ‘let me give you an example’. In order to be credible you need to back up your assertions with your relevant experiences, statistics and facts – otherwise it is just waffle. There is nothing to be gained from telling tall tales. It might work for five minutes but you won’t last five hours in the job if you have mis-sold yourself.

What were your strategies for success? In short, how did you beat the IN campaign?

Keep it simple, disciplined and play to your strengths. A key part of our victory was having a clearly defined message, one that the public would understand and could talk to their friends and colleagues about. Ours was simple - take back control. We said it again and again, in every email to supporters, every press release and every interview on TV. Most people will only engage with issues for a short amount of time, therefore we wanted our key message repeated as often as possible so it cut through to the electorate.
 
Reach out and expand. Mobilising your supporter base in a political campaign is important, but core vote strategy does not cut it anymore. We had to target new voters, with new strategies. A key section of the Leave vote share were people who had never or rarely voted in elections before - by reaching out to these people it took us over the line.
 
We knew which arguments were our strongest and where the IN campaign wanted the debate to be. The reason we won is because we executed our messaging more clinically. When going for a job interview or when you are speaking to potential employers you need to think through the impression that you most want them to have and push that message as often as you can. Using examples from your personal experience is the best way to demonstrate this key message about you.

What advice can you give to businesses to stay ahead of the competition with their employer brand?

As a business, you should always be looking to expand your customer base. Developments in technology and advertising now allow business and customers to access each other like never before. Only by tapping into these wider markets will you discover the true potential of your business.
 
At the same time, don’t become detached from your customer base. We were in daily contact with our supporters discussing the key news headlines of the day and spreading our core messages. We also informed them of our campaign tactics - we wanted our supporters to feel engaged and involved in the campaign, as this would make them more likely to volunteer to leaflet, canvas etc. Businesses need to be seen as a desirable environment for people to further their careers, as well as providing reliable and high quality products for the consumer.
 
In the weeks leading up to the referendum, we heard stories of pro-Remain MPs returning ashen-faced from canvassing in their constituencies, only just realising the widespread anti-EU and anti-establishment feeling amongst their constituents. They had lost touch with the people they were supposed to represent, and as such the electorate had become disenchanted with the political class.
 
The public profile of companies is equally as important. Businesses not only want to attract more customers, but they want the best staff possible working for them. You need to be seen as a desirable environment for people to further their careers, as well as providing reliable and high quality products for the consumer. Firms should not lose sight of either of these aims, as one is just as important as the other.
 
Part of the reason that our campaign was successful was because everyone bought into the same goal and dream. Everything we did was focused on getting more than 50% of the vote on 23 June 2016. Anything that wasn’t central to that focus was deprioritised and we were ruthless in our pursuit of that goal. That gave us a unifying sense of purpose which created a great culture to work in. Companies with a clear vision, goals and a sense of mission will have much better cultures and will find it easier to hire the right people and retain talent.
 
We also encouraged a culture of challenge. Junior members of staff were encouraged to pitch in ideas and to question the decisions of the senior staff. It was a deliberately flat structure which meant that people generally got on and felt bought into the project. If companies become too stratified and hierarchical, employees can see that as a major turn off and ultimately a less satisfying place to work.

How important is social media when building a personal brand?

Social media has empowered the consumer to hold businesses to account. A poor review has the potential to be seen by millions of people. It’s vital that companies are aware of customer attitudes, and acknowledge and react to negative feedback in order to nullify its impact on their public image.
 
Advances in technology are rapidly changing the way we interact with each other creating huge new opportunities for those willing to seize them. Tens of millions of adults in the UK log into Facebook every day – that allows campaigns and businesses to speak directly to those people in an extremely cost effective way. During the referendum campaign some of the videos we posted on Facebook would receive millions of views in 24 hours - allowing us to speak directly to voters about the things we and they cared about – not just the latest political row in the media. A poor review has the potential to be seen by millions of people. It’s vital that companies are aware of customer attitudes, and acknowledge and react to negative feedback in order to nullify its impact on their public image.
 
Similarly, it is now easier than ever before for you to get your CV out to potential employers through sites like LinkedIn. You are able to portray your key attributes in the way that you want them to be seen by employers. But with great opportunity also comes some risk – make sure that the stuff you are posting online is going to attract not repel future employers.

How are you viewed by key stakeholders?

We had to build a nationwide campaign capable of winning a referendum in 10 months. In order to get MPs and business people to support us, we had to present ourselves as a credible organisation able to take on the establishment of the political and business class. But most importantly, we had to get an army of volunteers on side to go out campaigning every spare moment they had, who believed that we could bring about a victory in the referendum. Early on in the campaign, we faced pressure from other groups who wished to be the official ‘Leave’ voice in the referendum. However, by positioning ourselves as a professional outfit to both Westminster and the British public, we ensured that our supporters stayed loyal to our brand and our core messaging.

Paul Stephenson

Connect with Paul Stephenson on LinkedIn.
Follow Paul on Twitter @Stephenson_pr
Visit Hanbury Strategy at http://www.hanburystrategy.com/
Follow Hanbury Strategy on Twitter at @HanburyStrategy

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Read more from the Talking Talent Series, which discusses specific topics on talent acquisition, the future of hiring, employment law and more.

Hakan Enver's picture
Operations Director
henver@morganmckinley.co.uk