TUESDAY 26 MAY 2015 4:24 PM


Tone of voice and personality are easy things to get right on a one-to-one basis. Add in the complexities of corporate jargon and the minutiae involved in brand guidelines and regulations, and that personality amounts to almost nothing.

For government regulators, it is both essential and incredibly difficult to communicate clearly. At an event hosted by the Writer, Emma Hill-French from Ofgem and Emma Stranack from the FCA joined the Writer’s managing partner Nick Parker in a discussion about language.

Hill-French, whose role at Ofgem is as the head of simpler, clearer communication – the major change programme the regulator is instituting across the business – said about simplicity, “It makes life easier. It helps to build trust. It helps to establish a relationship. People like and respect honesty and direction.” Yet for both Emmas, the challenge of creating a corporate tone of voice requires intensive effort on the part of communicators and business leaders alike.

For both, the project amounts to a culture change, and culture has never been an easy thing to change. Stranack points to the shift from the FSA to the FCA as the regulator redefined its purpose within the financial services sector as a point at which it could begin to look at its own communications. The newly-minted FCA had to lead the sector through a difficult time, explain the changes it had undergone and practice what it preached in terms of clarity in communications all at once.

One of the solutions she found was that the comms team encouraged employees to consider their audience when writing and check their work against a readability checker, which forced clarity. Hill-French similarly uses readability marks to encourage simplicity. Ofgem also uses an editorial team to process content and drive cultural change.

Parker quoted George Orwell saying, “English is a language of options, not rules,” thus defining the challenge the regulators are facing. Companies that seek to put strict rules in place about tone of voice and writing practices will fail, because each individual’s personality comes through in his or her writing. By allowing for options but setting forth a tone of voice framework, companies can both encourage a shift in the way writing and language are used in the corporate setting and start down the path toward clearer communications.