Since the devastating bushfires began to burn months ago, there haven’t been many articles praising Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Family holidays, forced handshakes caught on camera, half-cocked apologies, ambiguous statements about links to climate change, and an on-camera demeanour which has been defensive and often aggressive.
It has not been a good start to 2020 for Morrison or his PR team, but for the broader public relations and communications community, we now have a fresh list of ‘what not to do’ when talking to the media which we can use to educate and arm our spokespeople with.
Stick to your natural style
Following his return from Hawaii, Morrison hosted a prolific number of press conferences and interviews. One lesson we can pass on to our spokespeople is that consistency is critical, especially when it comes to language.
Morrison has a habit of flicking between bureaucratese (or corporate-speak) and tabloid-style trumpisms. By doing this, he leaves his audience confused and questioning what his natural style is. This leads to questions of authenticity, which is not a question you want any audience to ask.
Leave your ego at home
One of the worst mistakes Morrison has made is turning the spotlight on himself.
Many of his interviews have focused more on his personal action, rather than the actions of his government and his team. This has been at the expense of shining a light on the issue at hand and those impacted by it.
By sharing the media limelight across his leadership team, he would have softened the perception that the response to this disaster was all about him and avoided the barrage of personal leadership questions he has faced.
For our spokespeople, we need to emphasise that there is great strength in numbers.
Do not force empathy
Some leaders do not do emotion well. They may think they do, but it is our job to advise them before throwing them into situations where an empathetic voice is critical.
Morrison has been very defensive and often aggressive in interviews. His content has relied heavily on facts and figures — distancing him from the emotion of the situation.
We need to be honest with our spokespeople on this. If an audience does not hear or feel that you care, they will stop listening to what you are saying, and start trying to work out why.
In Morrison’s case, his lack of empathy has been interpreted as arrogance.
Finding another spokesperson, who delivers empathy authentically, is one option — even if it is in a supporting role alongside your key spokesperson.
Be conscious of your body language
Recognising the strengths and weaknesses of spokespeople is critical, but often it isn’t until the camera is rolling that they come to light.
In Morrison’s case, when he rests his face, he naturally reveals a grin. This makes it look like he is smirking, or looking down on the issue at hand.
His expression is doing exactly the opposite of his intent: distracting people from his answer.
By running through comprehensive media training, which includes an on-camera element, these physical weaknesses can be identified and addressed.
When Morrison sat down with ABC’s David Speers, he spoke for approximately two minutes in response to the first question.
By doing so, he introduced dozens of details and topics — opening him up to multiple lines of questioning.
For our spokespeople, we should reinforce that this is a risky strategy.
By answering a question succinctly, it keeps the interview focused and messages simple and easy to follow. The longer the answer the more likely it is the message gets lost and audiences lose track of what is being said.
Take responsibility and say sorry
Most PR and communication professionals will know the value of an apology. It puts a full stop on an issue and allows an organisation to move forward.
Training spokespeople about how to make an apology is critical. Keep it simple, direct and leave the audience in no doubt that you have accepted full responsibility.
Morrison failed to do this when he returned from Hawaii. Instead, his apology was ambiguous and left audiences questioning whether he had actually apologised.
As always, it is not just what our spokespeople say but how they say it, that counts. Frank and honest advice from us is critical to ensuring media success — no matter how difficult some of those conversations will be.
This article was first published on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.
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