If you can see what we’re doing, we’ve failed


When I was a teenager one of my hobbies was to design, rig, and engineer stage lighting for school shows, amateur dramatics, the occasional disco, and a couple of rock music shows.

All small stuff and it didn’t go anywhere for me. It was just a school-time hobby. But it taught be a great lesson for my future careers in political campaign management and corporate communications.

The lesson might sound a little obvious, but then maybe most good ones are, once you’ve learned them.

It is this. Are you ready? That stage lighting is not the end product.

The lighting, sound, props, and stage sets are all tools to help the words come to life. Even the actors aren’t the end product. It is what the actors do and how they do it that matters. And how the tools used help them to make others feel the right emotions.

The end product for a theatrical production is not the production. It is how the production makes the audience feel. That is the end product of the lighting.

Anybody who works in a political campaign needs to understand the difference. When I was running campaigns and lost I was invariably told that I’d “fought the best campaign”, to which I always replied “clearly not!” The best campaign is always the winning campaign.

I’ve quoted this elsewhere from Mrs Thatcher, but for me it has always captured this thought.

I suggested to her that things might need to change to win the campaign ahead and she reprimanded me for thinking that it was the campaign that was the end not the means by saying “we do not change things just to win a campaign, we win the campaign so we can change things.”

Similarly in the world of corporate communications I have often found that some people fixate on the communications strategies and tactics and not on the  business purpose and goals. Communication for the sake of communicating achieves nothing, except possibly to win awards and rack up billable hours.

The only point of communication is to help sell something  – a product, service, person, or idea. The tactic for doing that is to build, protect, promote, and most often to rescue, reputation. the reputation is not the end, it is the means. We do not care whether reputation is good or bad except in so far as it helps us to support the business.

With stage lighting, it’s about the end not the means. And as with lighting if the audience notice the communications or the campaigning, then we’ve failed.





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