#nhs4xmasno1: a powerful message is not just for christmas

An NHS choir are making themselves heard through song. It's a campaign to show timely support. There's plenty to learn from this.

by Sally-Anne Watts

Over recent weeks I’ve been watching as word has spread about the campaign to make ‘Bridge Over You’ sung by the choir from Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust the Christmas number 1. 

It’s a simple enough message – show your support for something you believe in and help others by downloading the song.  It doesn’t cost much and you will feel good afterwards.  What’s not to like?

But it’s a message that has had to compete with a plethora of other issues ranging from weather-related disasters and war zones through to Sep Blatter and Strictly Come Dancing.  And yet it has come though.

There’s something incredibly powerful about this simple message that has set me thinking about why it has gained traction and shone out amid everything else.  What lessons can we, as communicators, take from this to make sure our messages are as strong?

First and foremost, the delivery is authentic. (A word that has been much overdone of late, but here it rings true).  No actors, no pretence.  A song sung by people who work hard every day to care for others at times of real need and here they are, bravely putting themselves front and centre for something they truly believe in.   The delivery mechanism strengthens the message rather than over-shadowing or diluting it. 

Secondly, it’s a simple message.  We are here for you.  We will care for you.  Come to us and we will fix you. What’s not to like?  It’s not covered in hyperbole or so mired in management-speak that the message appears tokenistic because it has had the meaning and lifeblood squeezed out by a desire to ‘say the right thing’.

Thirdly it’s honest.  Delivered by people who know what they are talking about.  What you see is what you get.  It’s an NHS choir.  They’re not professional singers, but they are NHS professionals.  They share a common bond.  Their commitment to caring for others is the thread that holds the message together and makes it stronger.

The message resonates – both musically and in meaning.  At a time when we are surrounded by stories of people experiencing life-threatening difficulties and real hardships it’s good to know – and life-affirming - that there are people who are there for you.

And there is a real meaning - in the words, the delivery and the message – that doesn’t get lost in translation. It’s not ambiguous or open to misrepresentation. There is a simple and elegant clarity that cuts through the delivery mechanism. If the words were read rather than heard, the message would be as strong - and as easily understood. The message isn’t hidden in management-speak and spin; it stands as a testament to the commitment of the people involved. 

So here for Christmas we have the five gold rings of a powerful message: authenticity, simplicity, honesty, resonance and meaning. And there is hope and joy. Each element links with the other to extend the power and reach of the message so that it reaches out to touch people.   

I hope it makes it to Number 1 at Christmas.

Sally-Anne Watts is head of communications at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust.