It is so easy to misspeak in public, especially if you are trying to be funny.
Last weekend, it was Michael Gove who caused widespread offence by joking about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Wrong time to trivialise allegations against Weinstein
In a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview, he likened being interviewed by John Humphrys as going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom – “you just hope you emerge with your dignity intact”.
First I have to say I am not offended by Michael Gove’s joke. It was meant as a joke and tells you nothing about his attitude to women. I could easily join the #MeToo campaign. Others’ experience of this may be in the film or music business, mine was in the grubby hotel kitchens in Great Yarmouth. My experience is that chefs are just as bad as movie moguls.
But while I am not offended, I do recognise it was a daft thing to say and absolutely bound to cause an uproar.
Off-the-cuff remarks can be bad news
When it comes to off-the-cuff remarks in public, it is very easy to get it wrong. Being a little bit risqué will often get a laugh but can also easily offend. And when others are trying to move the dial on what is acceptable behaviour they are going to be quick to condemn those who can be criticised for not getting with the programme.
Back in August, I wrote about three subjects to avoid if you want to stay out of the headlines and any overtly sexist views was one of them. Gove was using Weinstein as an analogy rather than in any way endorsing his right to any sort of behaviour and the line “leave with your dignity intact” is elegant and funny. The problem is that Gove appears to be trivializing what Weinstein and perhaps others have done. If he had thought about it, crafted it, rehearsed it he would definitely have dropped the line. But it was almost certainly an off-the-cuff comment.
In this case, Michael Gove will undoubtedly bounce back. He was quick to apologise and there is an element of fake outrage about this.
But it does beautifully illustrate why spokespeople need training and they also need to rehearse. My Mum has often been heard to say, “I don’t understand why these clever, important people need you to advise them what to say”. And the truth is my one of my key roles is to ensure that my clients ‘risk assess’ the thoughts, arguments and comments they are likely to deploy in the public arena – thereby avoiding embarrassment or damage to the share price.
So many clever people initially find it extraordinary that PR people want to know what they are going to say, how they are going to say it and want to check how the argument is going to land. The smarter ones realise very quickly that an hour or two of preparation, scrutiny and rehearsal can allow everyone to breathe more easily.
If you would like our help in preparing for some external communication – whether it is in the media or somewhere else, please do give us a call to discuss. Join the group of senior leaders who would never be without us.
Photo used under Wikimedia Commons licence
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