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A few weeks ago, a Financial Times reader attacked the UK’s Remain campaign for its timidity, lack of aggression and its resemblance to “the Eighth Army before General Montgomery got a grip”.

No one would make that accusation now. Warnings of the damage Britain leaving the EU would cause to the UK economy land with the frequency and percussive effect of an artillery barrage.

They have come not just from David Cameron, the prime minister, and George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, but also from the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Trade Organisation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The Remain barrage has so disturbed the Leave campaigners that they have turned on each other.

Some Remain campaigners have begun to fear that they have made their case so effectively that complacent In voters will stay home on the day.

On the other hand, perhaps they have barely noticed.

A poll by Universities UK found that 63 per cent of students did not know the referendum date. More than half didn’t know what month it was in.

Those of us who follow the minutiae of politics fail to grasp how little attention our fellow citizens pay to it.

When YouGov, the pollster, showed people photographs of the UK’s leading politicians, they almost all knew who Mr Cameron was. But only 32 per cent recognised Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and 15 per cent could name Michael Fallon, the defence secretary.

On the other side of the aisle, while 89 per cent recognised Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, only 19 per cent identified John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. Just 58 per cent could put a name to Diane Abbott, the first black woman elected to parliament and a persistent television presence for almost three decades.

People have their own lives to lead, which is why they pay little attention to even the loudest politicians.

The same happens in business. When you become a manager, one of your most dispiriting discoveries is how few of your team can explain the strategy you have outlined to them. Many don’t know you have a strategy.

As Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Harvard Business School professor, said: “Leaders cannot assume that just because it has been said, it has been heard.”

The fact that business leaders have many ways of getting their message across — via email, blog, video, Facebook — has made communication harder not easier. Employees have many more interesting digital distractions than reading their managers’ thoughts.

There are three lessons business leaders can learn from the Remain campaign.

First, hone your headline. “You will be worse off if we leave” is the Remain campaigners’ overall message. Decide what yours is.

Keep what follows short and sharp. Most corporate messages suffer from too many meddlers — human resources, legal, “comms” — to be comprehensible, even if people were disposed to read them.

Once you have got the basic message down, add links and details for those few interested enough to delve deeper.

Second, explain what your message means to the people you are trying to influence. Although they may feign an interest in the state of the market or crushing rivals, what they really care about is what will happen to their jobs.

This is not just about whether they will keep those jobs, although that matters hugely. It is about what your message means for how they do their jobs: how easy or hard they will become and what help they will have.

The third lesson is repetition. Say what you have to say over and over, in as many forms as you can. It is when you think people will run away screaming if you say it once more that you have reached the point where the first of your staff starts to listen.

These lessons are the ones the Remain campaigners and their allies at home and abroad have understood. It is why their warnings of the dangers of leaving the EU will continue right up to referendum day (which is June 23, if any students have read this far).

Whether Remain has succeeded or not we will discover when the votes are counted. Getting your message across doesn’t mean everyone believes it — something all politicians and business leaders occasionally have to face.

michael.skapinker@ft.com
Twitter: @Skapinker

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