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5 important lessons Alan Partridge can teach you about communication

If you’re a fan of dark humour, you’ll no doubt be familiar with Alan Gordon Partridge, the comedy parody of British television personalities, played by Steve Coogan.

The character is as inept as he is full of his own importance, which drives him to make inappropriate comments, resort to treachery, and engage in shameless self-promotion. Fans will be familiar with Alan’s love of rambling sentences and crass comments, which make him a comic masterpiece.

While entertaining, he might also be able to teach us some valuable lessons about communication.

This thought came to me as I read Alan Partridge: Nomad, which follows the broadcaster’s “deeply personal” journey as he retraces his father’s footsteps from Norfolk to Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.

So, what can the faux broadcaster teach us? Read on to discover five well known Partridge comments and what we might learn from them.

1. “‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. What a great song. It really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday, doesn’t it?”

Be sure of your facts, and if you’re not, say so. The financial industry is particularly complicated, which means there is always the possibility you’ll be asked a question you don’t know the answer to, or may be unsure of.

If you are in this situation, always be honest and say so. Clients and potential clients are likely to value your candidness much more than an answer they know to be, or later find out to be wrong.

In financial services, you’re only as good as your reputation, and saying something you later regret could reduce your professional standing with existing and potential clients – and that’s bad for business!

2. “It was when it came to whistling that QSPC was the real game changer. Don’t forget, this was a time when whistling mattered.”

This line, taken from the book Nomad, demonstrates how acronyms should be avoided. Partridge uses it while explaining that his doctor has told him that he’s a physical wreck.

True to the broadcaster’s style of communication, instead of using the words “physically fit” which are clear and understandable, he uses four. Worse still, he then turns them into the acronym QSPC, which stands for “quite superb physical condition”.

As the financial services industry has a myriad of acronyms it’s easy to use them, forgetting that the client could be left confused and bewildered about what you’re saying.

Always replace them with simple, straight forward explanations – and always avoid using four words when two will do.

3. “Go to London, I guarantee you’ll either be mugged or not appreciated. Catch the train to London, stopping at Rejection, Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway.”

Be careful about sharing personal opinions with clients, as they may not share your views.

While it’s important to be human, and therefore empathise with your clients, care should always be taken when sharing opinions with them.

I remember speaking to one client when I was a financial planner, who told me their former adviser made a passing comment about Brexit, which enraged her so much she decided she could no longer work with him.

4. “It’s amazing how many people still think the petrol cap on a Ford Focus is offside rear.”

Beware of unnecessary or too much detail. While detail is good, excessive and unnecessary detail might not be, as clients could struggle to follow what you’re explaining and end up becoming confused.

Not only could this mean you lose a client or potential business, it could expose you to complaints. If a client accepts your recommendation without being clear about what you’re saying, they could later realise it wasn’t really right for them and make a complaint against you.

5. “Let me tell you something about the Titanic: people forget that on the Titanic’s maiden voyage there were over 1,000 miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg.”

Don’t try to disguise bad news. There will always be times when client’s investments may not perform as hoped, and it’s likely they will want reassurance from their financial planner or adviser.

While it might be tempting to emphasise the positives and play down the negatives, this is something you may later regret. It’s very likely your client will find out at some point, and that might be because they seek the opinion of another financial planner who is keen to take your client’s business.

Explaining the situation clearly and without bias could help foster a feeling of trust between you and your client, who is then more likely to listen to your recommendations.

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