Whip hand?

By Guy Smith, Partner

When a government minister poses for a picture with a whip strategically placed on his desk, it’s bound to get people talking.

The photo was taken on the day Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a U-turn on A Level and GCSE grades.

There was tittle-tattle on Twitter, rumours on radio and much conjecture by newspaper columnists.

A simple picture conjured up multiple questions. Was it a deliberate distraction technique to avoid more criticism? A menacing message to silence resignation calls from his own party from a former Chief Whip who knew their secrets? Or just poor judgement?

Whatever the intention, the result clearly revealed the power of visual imagery to grab attention, engage and have an impact on the audience.

In a former life, I was a TV journalist. Best practice was to let the pictures tell the story. “Let them breathe” was the mantra from a former mentor. Words should be used sparingly, only to add information that you could not see in the moving images. The point was that pictures really were worth a thousand words.

Complex ideas can often be far better explained using a drawing, an illustration or an electronic image. Ever since our pre-historic ancestors lived in caves, images have arguably been the most powerful and memorable way to describe and explain the world around us. 

At school, at home or at work, visual communication is everywhere. It’s in our newspapers, on billboards, charts, diagrams, shared on social media.

We all know that presenting a bunch of statistics to work colleagues can leave them yawning in the back of the meeting room. Far better to use an infographic to help tell the story and enable your peers to digest and understand the facts.

You may not remember what you read or hear but you are far more likely to recall what you see in an image. And it can be far more effective in stirring emotions than the spoken or written word. If you were running a newspaper ad campaign to brand build, the right image or set of photos alongside the text would generate a much more positive response from your target audience.

But interestingly, an image also crosses geographical borders, cultural barriers and ethnic and language differences. By contrast to words, it can make sense to everybody albeit it can harbour hidden messages and deeper meanings, as we see in Mr Williamson and his whip.