Speak truth to power

This week Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former EU ambassador quit. In his resignation letter sent to his staff he spoke about the importance of speaking truth to power. While many in the press have called this a thinly veiled criticism of the government’s Brexit strategy (and it undoubtedly is) it is also an important reminder for us all.

Everybody wants to be ‘on brand’ until they’re not. Everyone wants an expert’s opinion until that expert disagrees with them. It’s often the job of a brand manager, art director or anyone involved in branding to have to speak truth to power.

It takes a lot of courage to interject in a meeting and contradict someone. It takes tact to get someone to change their mind about their idea. And it can be a fairly thankless task.

I was chatting with an experienced brand manager recently. He told me he’d been asked by his boss to include a photograph of the boss’s child in their latest marketing campaign. The child was cute enough but the photo didn’t fit the tone of the piece. He dreaded going to tell his boss that the image shouldn’t be used. After all no one wants to hear: “we’re rejecting your child”. Especially not by someone who works for you.

It was a difficult conversation, this wasn’t just a pet project or a favorite image, this was a picture of his first born! But eventually he was able to persuade his boss that although the child was very cute the image wasn’t appropriate. He reminded his boss that he paid him to look after the brand and this is what he was doing.

The picture remained where it should be – in a photo frame on the boss’s desk. The campaign was a success and his boss respected him for having courage to speak the truth, to stand up to him and to put the needs of the business ahead of the desire to please those in power.

What are your experiences with speaking truth to power? Let me know in the comments below.