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The Science of Crisis Communication: Proactive and Reactive Strategies

Crisis communication—typically a reactive and intense endeavour executed with anxiety and haste. You may find yourself in a situation where you haven't fully planned what to say, b...

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Navigating Regulatory Waters: Friend or Food? How To Stay Ahead in Financial Services

The following content is part of our fortnightly newsletter eDMs "Take A Beat Thursday" and was originally sent out on February 8th. If you'd like to join the list and get these in...

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Witch Conjuring A Spell

If the concept of ‘staying on message’ is “a blunt instrument designed by the Devil to help politicians bludgeon the life out of truth” then what should a spokesperson be doing to communicate effectively and authentically? Hint: being an effective spokesperson is not the same as repeating one message, ad nauseum.

A commonly asked question during media training sessions with clients goes directly to the static core of all that is wrong with cynical political spin: why do politicians never answer a single damn question?

It's a sound observation which highlights for me two things.

One, consumers of media and society in general allow our elected representatives too much leeway (it's not the fault of media). And two, the infiltration and influence of spin doctors working with pollsters over the years is now complete and has devolved the act of effective and authentic communication to a simpering shadow of its full potential. It is the domain of political obfuscators taught the dark arts of double-speak, obsessive repetition and perennially bridging from tough question to benign key message, all the while attempting to sound like they are answering the question.

'Politician syndrome' as I call it, is the polar opposite of what being an authentic spokesperson is all about. And it highlights one of my Golden Rules of engaging with media: being an effective spokesperson is not the same as repeating one message, ad nauseum.

Sadly the Golden Rule is one our politicians have been taught to ignore. We've all seen television interviews where political rhetoric triumphs over substance; the spin over the direct response; the interview quickly degenerating into a farcical test of endurance.

For the pollies it is called 'staying on message'. For journos this singular trait is intensely frustrating – even humiliating. And the voting public? In Australia we get to have our say at the polling booth on September 14. And we also have the option to switch off the TV and take to Twitter to vent our spleen.

As a former journalist and now media trainer of 10 years’ standing, the concept of ‘staying on message’ is to me a blunt instrument designed by the Devil to help politicians bludgeon the life out of truth, and never answer a question. And the Devil gives special attention to those pollies residing in a marginal electorate. Funny that.

So, what does this teach us? For a start nobody should think that never answering a question is okay. For us mere mortals venturing into the world of engaging with financial services and business media different rules apply. We are not afforded the same license as a politician to get away with not answering the question. Nor should we be.

But we do have the right to be a worthy participant in the tennis match that is the media interview. A respectful advocate for clear, consistent and simple communication. And by showing that level of authenticity, activating and amplifying our point, we learn important lessons that hold us in good stead way after the media interview has ended. We do have a say in influencing outcomes in the media through truly effective and authentic means without once resorting to blocking, bullocking or artless repetition.

So as the Australian population marches solemnly towards a September 14 federal election it is worth keeping an ear out for a predictable spike – probably in late July or early August – in the political double speak.

I will be on alert for the first sign of a campaign slogan, and waiting to see which of our pollies goes for the equivalent of ‘Politician Syndrome Gold’. Can the PM Julia Gillard outdo her personal best of from the 2010 election with expressions such as “moving forward together”, “working Australians” and “stronger economy”?

And Tony Abbott? A 2013 version of the 2010 election slogans is on the cards: his "real action' message alongside “end the waste”, “pay back the debt”, “Stop the big new taxes”, “Stop the boats” and ”Help struggling families”...

So watch this space – and bear in mind these musts to avoid if you want to take a big step away from ‘Politician Syndrome’. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t?

Bruce Madden is BlueChip Director and media trainer. Click here for more information.

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