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speak human feature

Speaking human is a must-have skill

“We need people who speak human”.

So said a Labour Party insider, following the party’s defeat in Hartlepool last week.

Whatever your thoughts about the successes and failures of the various political parties in the UK elections over the past few days, it’s interesting that the need to communicate naturally with your audience, has once again come to the fore.

And yet in so many of our training sessions, it’s clear that the temptation to do precisely the opposite when talking to the media is almost too great to resist. People continue to use phrases like ‘strategy outputs’, ‘deliverables’ and ‘reduced footfall in the vicinity’, even when simpler and more natural versions would surely come to mind if talking to family or friends.

speak human

When we ask our clients why this is, the reasons they give range from the need to appear ‘professional’, through ‘speaking to impress’, to avoiding sounding like they’re ‘dumbing down’.

But the truth is, if you speak like this, you’re putting hurdles in the way of people’s comprehension. It means that they have to work harder simply to understand the words you are using, let alone grasp the meaning that lies behind them.

speak human

Eric Dixon: ‘It’s not dumbing down, it’s wising up!’

Here at The Media Coach, we call it the Language Ladder. On the top few rungs is the type of language you might use when you are writing a document or a report, including abstract terms and jargon. Down at the bottom is colloquial language – the normal language you would use when having a conversation. Counter-intuitive as it might be, the sensible thing to do is go down-ladder whenever possible.

And far from ‘dumbing down’, clearing the channels of complexity actually allows you to put more intelligent thoughts into the discussion. In short, using simpler language enables your argument to be more sophisticated; not ‘dumbing down’, but ‘wising up’!

So not only does speaking more colloquially mean that your audience is more likely to engage with what you are saying, they are more likely to take the action you are proposing – such as adopting a new way of working (if you’re in business), or voting for you (if you’re in politics), for example.

All this simply by speaking more conversationally.

More naturally.

More… human.

Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan should know better: walking off set is never good

Piers Morgan is irascible, dogmatic and for me highly entertaining. He of all people knows that media interviews are a sometimes uncomfortable blend of entertainment and information, often generating more heat than light.  And for a hapless interviewee, the pressure occasionally gets too much. But tempting though it might be, storming out of a TV or radio studio in the middle of a discussion is never the best course of action. Piers should know that, too.

Whilst leaving gets you out of your immediate predicament, what you were trying to say will be forgotten, whilst the memory of your disappearance will last for years – and, as in the case of Piers, will have its own consequences.

“O.K. I’m done with this. Sorry, no, sorry. You can trash me, mate, but not on my own show. See you later. Sorry – I can’t do this.”

With these words to fellow presenter Alex Beresford, Piers walked off the set of Good Morning Britain: he clearly didn’t like being criticised for his provocative comments about Meghan Markle, live on air.

The footage – which has now gone viral on the internet – may only have happened this week, but it followed in the footsteps of a long line of TV appearances interrupted by an unexpected departure.

One of the most famous, of course, was then Defence Secretary John Nott being quizzed by veteran interviewer Sir Robin Day on the BBC’s Newsnight in 1982:

RD: “But why should the public, on this issue, as regards the future of the Royal Navy, believe you – a transient, here today, and if I may say so gone tomorrow politician – rather than a senior officer of many years…”

JN (getting up, removing microphone): “I’m sorry, I’m fed up with this interview. Ridiculous…”

Nott’s autobiography, published twenty years later (after he became Sir John Nott), ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ (2002) was named after the incident.

But it’s not just in the world of politics that a sudden flounce off set brings things to an early conclusion. Take singing trio The Bees Gees on the chat show Clive Anderson All Talk in 1997, when the host adopted his trademark cynical questioning of his guests. First, it was Barry (“In fact, I might just leave”), then Robin, and then Maurice (“Oh well, I guess I better join them”), who became the last of the Gibb brothers to disappear backstage.

TV commentators can also fall foul of the temptation to remove their lapel microphone and vanish from the screen. After the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, it happened to Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who objected to the stance of Sky News on Sunday presenter Mark Longhurst and fellow guest Julia Hartley-Brewer during the newspaper review (“I’ve had enough of this… I’m very upset… sorry”).

The common theme amongst all these interactions is that any of the main points being made (we call them ‘key messages’) are lost amongst the drama of the departure. In Owen Jones’ case, he wanted the shooting to be “called-out for what it is – an intentional attack on LGBT people”. But for the viewing audience around the water cooler in the office the next day, the gossip was likely to be about his leaving the set, not the message he was trying to convey.

No one remembers what the Bee Gees were saying, nor John Nott’s point on Newsnight. Similarly, Piers Morgan’s lengthy critique of Meghan Markle has now been overshadowed by the impression of a petulant host unwilling to take what he so regularly gives out.

So, whether you’re a TV presenter, commentator, or interviewee; whether you’re from the world of politics, entertainment or sport; however much heat is being generated by the discussion, it’s always best to stay in the proverbial kitchen.

Arnie

For Leaders in Lockdown: Arnie shows how to deliver a script

If you haven’t seen this Arnie movie I recommend it right now.  A seven-minute-long piece to camera, which shows just what can be done with minimum tech and minimum production. At a time when corporate and organisational leaders are looking for ways to connect with their teams via videos or zoom town hall meetings, there are few great lessons we can grab from this.

Ok, I know he is a senior politician and an actor – so he knows a thing or two.  That is why of course, it is a masterpiece.

Here is my list of the transferable highlights:

  1. Start with a personal story. If you can include emotion it will make it memorable.
  2. Expand the anecdote into the public narrative formula: the story of me, the story of us, the story of now (or our challenge for the future). If you are speech writing it is worth becoming au fait with the public narrative style. It is super simple and effective.
  3. Use short sentences. There is barely one example of a sentence more than 16 words in this video.
  4. There is absolutely no jargon or difficult language in this. The one German phrase is clearly explained.
  5. Paint a picture with your words. (For example ‘pound it with a hammer, heat it in the fire’ – 5 mins, 20 seconds into the video).
  6. Use a prop. Conan’s sword (explained here) was a prop that reminded the audience of the politician’s film career but also served as a clever and powerful metaphor.
  7. Understand, a good speech is all about emotion.
  8. Be prepared to use repetition. It can lift a speech from prose to poetry.
  9. End on a positive, forward-looking note.
  10. Include a call to action. He asks people to lend support to the president-elect, whatever their political beliefs.

Some other thoughts:

  • Arnie is reading a script. A carefully written, fine-tuned, masterpiece of a script.  It is on autocue. Most people cannot read autocue without being trained or training themselves. One of the benefits of short sentences is that they make reading aloud much easier. So the script is written to be spoken, not written to be read. (We teach this.)
  • The background is relevant and personal, his study. But it is way too busy and distracting in my view. I prefer a cleaner image.
  • I suspect this was not done in one take. You will see that there are what is called in the trade ‘cutaways’. A different view – from the side. Cutaways allow inconspicuous editing, so it’s likely even Arnie had several goes at it. Planning for cutaways makes life much easier for the performer. In this case, the cutaways are very amateur but they still made for easier editing.

If you want to learn to write for autocue or read autocue well, give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.  We are also helping leaders in lockdown to connect with their Townhall audiences by sharing stories and ad-libbing using a message house. We can teach you how to do this too.

feature communicating strategically

What I wish I had known 30 years ago …

I have been asked to share with a group of young people, future leaders, a few tricks and tips for what I think of as ‘effective professional communication’.

communicating strategically

Nine Top Tips for Communicating Strategically

I think the following rules cover anything from job interviews to fundraising pitches, conversations with teachers or negotiations for an internship. Pulling it all together has made me think – I wish someone had told me this stuff 30 years ago!

Let me know if you think I have missed anything.

Before you Start

  1. There are no rules and there is no perfect. It’s about being the best version of you; or as the Berocca copywriters put it, ‘you, but on a really good day’. (I have to thank my fellow trainer Eric Dixon for this little nugget.)
  2. Have a plan. Know what you want to achieve. 5 minutes thinking about what would be a great outcome from any conversation, what would be a good outcome and what would be a bad outcome, will help you focus. Trust yourself on this. Anything you think is fine.
  3. Also, ask yourself what you know about the other person or the audience. What matters to them? What are their priorities? Do they have problems you can solve or priorities you share? A back of envelope audit about your target can shape your messaging. It can also help with rapport (see point 9)
  4. Having worked out your goal, think about how you want the other side – be it one person or many – to feel, to think and what you want them to do, as a result of the conversation or presentation. Again clarity of thought here will serve you well.

    Plan the words – or some of them

  5. Having worked through points one to four above, you can work out what you want to say and how best to say it. There are no rules, but clearly articulated ideas will help everyone. For example, if fundraising: ‘we know how to help, we just need the funds’ or if in a job interview: ‘if you gave me this job, I could transform your social media’.
  6. Having identified a few key assertions or toplines – find ways to ‘prove it’. In the example above you are looking for either facts, numbers or anecdotes that will ‘prove’ you can transform your potential employers social media. A fact might be: correct use of tags on Twitter typically increases ‘shares’ by 30%. An anecdote might be ‘I helped a shoe shop in my high street double the number of customers simply by using social media to talk about footwear trends in Gosport.’
  7. And that brings us to stories. Tell more stories. Learn to tell stories. Try them out on friends and family. Stories, anecdotes and examples will influence people much more than real hard evidence. They will also make you a better leader, help you sound more authentic and above all make you more memorable.

    And then …

  8. Once you have considered the substance of any message, rehearse it aloud. This may make you feel silly, but it will really help.
  9. Finally; study rapport*. Learn ways to make a connection with people you don’t already know. Rapport is key to so many conversations and while it is no silver bullet, building rapport will never be a bad thing.

The Media Coach provides bespoke training in Effective Communication in many different ways. Media Training, Presentation Training, Personal Effectiveness Training and Video Skills for Business. Please email enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk or call us  +44 (0)20 7099 2212 if you want to discuss your needs.

*As I have said before, if you don’t know what is meant by rapport (and can cope with more than an hour of full-on Tony Robbins) this OTT video will give you more than you ever need to know.


Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two_young_people_demonstrating_a_lively_conversation.jpg
boomerang phrases,

Boomerang Phrases and the Art of Influence

There it is again, leading the news. I have lost count of the number of times I heard the ‘reset’ phrase in the last week.

As Lee Cain walked out of Number 10 the phrase started to do the rounds: When Cain was followed by Cummings, every political player or commentator it seemed, led perhaps by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, used the phrase ‘chance for a reset’.

Boomerang Phrases

This is what I think of as a ‘boomerang phrase’.  A phrase that someone comes up with, which just captures the moment, or the message, or the circumstances: and then everyone starts using it, and within a couple of hours it is being used right back at you.

boomerang phrases

Boomerang phrases can be organic. As far as I know ‘the new normal’ did not come from a spin doctor. But a good spin doctor will, from time to time, come up with phrases that both resonate but crucially also make people see the existing facts differently. That in turn will influence a million micro decisions and some huge ones.

If an audience both recognise something in the phrase but also see things differently because of it – the author has a good chance of achieving change.

Of course, great phrases don’t always catch on. But, if they work they can have extraordinary power and in some cases are repeated down through history. Repugnant though it still is, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ phrase is not just remembered but it had huge influence. Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ is in the same category.  The triplet ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité was influential way beyond the borders of France and the simple phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ ignited protest and policy responses around the world, earlier this year. There are thousands more I could use to illustrate the point.

‘Reset’ is clearly not in the same premier league of history-changing phrases as those listed above. But it was a good attempt to capture the moment and spin something positive out of the political shenanigans. I don’t know who first used it to define the post Cain and Cummings mood, (Carrie Symonds perhaps) but it was already doing the rounds before it was picked up and applied to a small domestic disturbance at Number 10.

Reset is A La Mode

‘COVID 19 – The Great Reset’ is the title of a book out earlier this year and refers to resetting the World Order after the pandemic. The phrase may have originated from Klaus Schwab – who runs the World Economic Forum or perhaps his co-author Thierry Malleret. Or perhaps their publisher.

boomerang phrases

But it doesn’t stop there. It is easy to find a dozen headlines for ‘reset’ as applied to the departure of Cummings and Cain but many more applied to Biden’s presidential victory. It doesn’t matter that it is a repurposed phrase: it can still do the job. One of my clients many years ago referred to reusing other people’s phrases as ‘stealing with pride’.

boomerang phrases

 

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Leadership Skill

Boomerang phrases are a powerful leadership tool. They are just as influential amongst smaller groups and within companies or organisations, as they are on the political stage. Being able to craft a phrase that everyone else can hang their hat on, is a real and rare skill.

The irony is that Cain and Cummings were brilliant at it. ‘Take back control’ and ‘Get Brexit done’ were probably among the most influential boomerang phrases of recent history.

At The Media Coach, we eat, breath and live effective communication. Email me at lindsay.williams@themediacoach.co.uk to start a conversation about how we can help you or your team. Full details of all our bespoke coaching courses can be found at themediacoach.co.uk.

emotion

A Catch in the Throat

Watching Kamala Harris’ victory speech from my settee on the other side of the Atlantic, I felt emotion rise in my chest to the extent that for a few moments I couldn’t speak.

And yet this is a woman I know very little about. I am not an American and while I care about the presidential election, it is not central to my life.

The Power of Emotion

It was the emotion of the speech that caught me.  The crafted emotional narrative of significant victory after a long struggle. And yet there was no over claiming and a real sense of humility.

I am sure there are women leaders before who have chosen not to hide their emotions and instead use them to pull people in behind them, but I can’t immediately name them.

The sort of women leaders I have been watching for the last thirty years are those who chose to hide emotion; to look totally professional. They projected reason or logic and strove not to give ammunition to people who think leaders don’t cry, don’t emote. I am thinking of Margaret Thatcher, the original iron lady, Theresa May, Angela Merkel.

How refreshing and how right for the moment to hear a woman speak with warmth and emotion. In this case sheer joy.

Scientists Jump for Joy

There was another unusual display of emotion this week. From the Chief Scientist at Pfizer talking about the success of COVID vaccine trials.

emotion

It was a short clip (which can be seen in this video at 1’ 38”) but the emotion was authentic and unusual. As many of you know, persuading scientists and policymakers to share stories or anecdotes, let alone emotion, can be an uphill talk. But here we have a scientist talking about jumping for joy.

Having said I could not think of another female leader prepared to share emotion … there is another.   New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has shown us several times she is prepared to share emotion, good and bad, in her public speeches.

Her victory speech at winning her 2020 General Election was full of joy and can be found here, but she is also famous for sharing sorrow. I find this clip the most astonishing. Not a speech this time but still an act of humanity and leadership.

 

The Media Coach team can help you prepare for an event, craft a narrative and pull together media messages. Give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

The two faces of negotiation

The Two Faces of a Negotiation

Brexit talks remind us that there are always two faces to negotiation. What you say in public and what you say in private.

In western democracies, there is an assumed right to know what is going on in negotiations involving governments, unless there are very good reasons why not. Journalists shout questions, ask repeatedly and people scream on Twitter about conspiracies and hidden agendas.

The two faces of negotiation

You Cannot Negotiate in Public

Any intelligent person knows that you cannot negotiate in public. Negotiation requires compromise and today’s expected outcome will be tomorrow’s cat litter. Commercial organisations almost always reserve the right not to discuss deals until they are signed. Stock market rules support them: if a deal will affect the share price it is essential that all investors and possible investors know at the same time, to prevent unfair or insider trading.

But politicians have an impossible situation to manage. They must negotiate in private but update, at every stage, in public. Very few negotiations have had as much public scrutiny as the Brexit deal.

There is an added wrinkle to this negotiation in particular – public opinion almost certainly influences the negotiation. That means it is in the interests of both sides to influence public opinion: and opinion is, of course, being deliberately influenced by the, now daily, updates on the negotiations.

There is a procession of headline-grabbing quotable phrases from both sides. This clip includes several carefully crafted phrases from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

 


To pull out just one: ‘After 45 years of membership (the EU) are not willing…to offer this country the same terms as Canada.’

Some more of the phrases used by the UK government spokespeople in the last few days include:

‘Time is running out’. Boris Johnson specifically to business leaders urging them to prepare for Brexit.

The EU has not shown ‘the respect and flexibility’ expected in international negotiations. Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick.

‘Door is still ajar’. Michael Gove and Robert Jenrick.

From the EU:

The British ‘are much more depending on us than we are on them’. President Emmanuel Macron.

‘We want a deal, but not at any price.’ ‘It must be fair’. This was said by a number of European leaders after talks last week. The BBC did a brilliant edit to illustrate consistent messaging from the EU side. Sorry, we can’t insert it but it was posted at 20:47 pm 15th Oct (click the link and scroll down until you find the video entitled A few words on Brexit). It is worth a watch.

And we also have off-the-record briefings. Also designed to influence public and political opinions. Unofficial comments that I have seen include:

  • The FT quoting a senior UK official with knowledge of the talks saying the mood on the British side was ‘very gloomy’.
  • The Express claimed that chief negotiator Michel Barnier and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were ‘fed-up’ with France’s Emmanual Macron for digging his heels in on fishing rights.
  • And Politico reported a senior German official who knows Merkel well, summed up thinking on Brexit as ‘Better if in, but if not then close’.

Is it All for Show?

I am sure there are plenty more on and off the record quotes. All part of the theatre of international trade negotiation.

But here are some quotes about the negotiation process that I personally give weight to.

“There is now too little separating the two sides for either to afford a no-deal outcome. Of course, Downing Street will inflate their language to put pressure on the EU. But my judgment is that Johnson is too weak politically to have the commotion of no-deal coming on top of the Covid mayhem.” Peter Mandelson, former EU Trade Commissioner. Quoted in the FT behind a paywall.

And here is a snippet from Politico’s Sunday Crunch:

Perhaps worth remembering … former Brexit Secretary David Davis’ words at the end of 2018, when we were nearing the deadline for a draft Brexit divorce deal: “We’re going to have a very scary few months — from now until about November it’s going to be really scary,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be calling each other’s bluff, there’s all sorts of brinkmanship going to go on — that’s normal, that’s the European Union’s daily bread and that’s what we’ve got to be ready for.”

If you or your team would like help with media training please do give us a call on: +44 (0)20 7099 2212

Images: YouTube

 

David Lammy

David Lammy MP – One to Watch

David Lammy MP is a new name on my list of good media operators. He seems to strike the right balance of being no-nonsense, plain-speaking and colloquial without losing party discipline. He is also very gutsy about not answering the questions he doesn’t want to answer.

David Lammy appeared on the Andrew Marr Show (again)

Here he is on this weekend’s Andrew Marr Show, where he is something of a regular.

Why Lammy comes across well

Here is why I think Lammy is a good media performer.

  • He is a high energy communicator. We look for warmth, authority and animation and he has all these qualities.
  • He always addresses the question – not the same as always answering it, but he doesn’t do what so many do, which is just make statements. He says something to the question.
  • He looks to me as if his answers are prepared. Responses are always high value and appear thought-through with the evidence to hand. Of course, he is a trained barrister, so perhaps what you would expect but it is noticeable.
  • He has the numbers at his fingertips. Again, like any good barrister, he lines up the evidence.
  • He uses personal anecdotes. He talks about his university, often mentions football and always, always mentions his constituency.
  • He manages to push back against aggressive or repeat questioning, without getting too aggressive himself.

Lammy spends a lot of time in broadcast studios

Another thing that is clear to me is that Lammy makes himself available to the media – a lot. He even has his own show on LBC. That means he is very familiar with the interview process, studios, etc.

David Lammy

Here is a link to that call.

My advice for Lammy

Just to be clear, Lammy hasn’t asked for my advice and probably doesn’t need it but …David Lammy

  • I do worry that he defaults to always having a strong point of view and often sounding irritated. As if the answer to every problem was blindingly obvious, rather than complicated and nuanced. This may undermine his authority somewhat, especially over the long-run. It’s difficult to trust people who are always upset about something. It’s difficult to have respect for those who oversimplify or are too obviously tribal.
  • There is such a thing as too much media exposure. You can become seen as a ‘rent a quote’ by both journalists and audiences. Having established himself so well, and built so much experience in studios, maybe it’s time to target more thoughtful programmes and media interactions.

The Bigger Picture

Public perceptions of Lammy will not just be shaped by mainstream media. He is very active on Twitter, which means it is easy to know what he thinks about almost everything. On Twitter, he mixes national politics with the personal, in a way that gives colour and shows humanity but avoids being too tediously prosaic. He has also written a book, Tribes: How our Need to Belong Can Make or Break Society, published in March 2020. In this, he explains his complicated heritage and stellar career path as well as providing a thought-provoking contribution to two of the great problems of the age: loneliness and extremism, and how these are tied together by social media.

In fact, I can’t help wondering if Lammy’s book wasn’t inspired by Obama’s Dreams of my Father as it mixes the personal and the big picture in a similar way. Perhaps suggesting that Lammy has eyes on the top job eventually!

 

 

comms team feature

12 Ways to Prove you are a True Comms Professional

PR people are so often overworked and under-valued. One of the big – not so obvious – benefits of Media Training, is that it opens the eyes of executives to the role and the work of the comms team. But if Media Training is not on the agenda, here are 12 ways you can prove you are a true comms professional.

comms team

Be Prepared to Challenge

1. Ask repeatedly until you get a clear defined answer: Who is the audience? What do we want to achieve? So many PR initiatives fail because of woolly or ever-changing objectives. Senior people love demanding that something happens without being clear what the desired specific benefit would be. Phrases such as ‘get me some press coverage’, ‘get me some good PR for this’, or even ‘can’t you just give me the journalists’ mobile numbers’.

2. Ask: How will we know we have achieved that objective? What metrics will we measure? It can be difficult to measure PR impact or outcomes and it maybe there are no satisfactory metrics to log. But it is worth always asking the question, not least because it gives the PR professional cover if the coverage fails to wow.

3. Hold everyone to account for writing and speaking in plain English. It is no good you working your socks off to get people in front of journalists if, once they start, they can’t explain the project or product in ways that mean something to the audience. It is often uncomfortable reminding senior people to use more colloquial language, but it will pay dividends (assuming they listen).

4. Repeatedly ask: Is that true? Can we prove it? Can we evidence it? Some teams are overly cautious, while some leaders are way too gung ho. Given it is the PR team who will be fielding the calls if bold claims cannot be substantiated, it’s worth insisting that you have the proof points before you go public.

Know your Market

5. Know your journalists. Names and biographies of the top 20 or 30 journalists or bloggers on your media list should be well known to you.

6. Keep an eye on key competitors and remind your team what they are doing and saying. Many people are too busy doing the day job to properly keep across market issues. Those that do manage to do this will give themselves and the team an edge. Observations can be as simple as how active they are in the media, to what they are talking about, to the detail of which spokesperson is saying what. This may provide media opportunities, warn of ‘while I’ve got you…’ questions and much more. Above all, it will convince the business it is worth paying your wages.

Set your own Standards

7. Read everything you or a colleague writes, at least twice: once for sense and once for grammar and spelling. If you are about to publish externally, ask for a second pair of eyes wherever possible. This is especially important for me. I do not see grammar and spelling mistakes. I can read things as carefully as I like and I always miss something. Fortunately, I have people in the team who rarely miss anything.

8. Project plan everything. Diaries, dates, personal deadlines and to-do lists are the bedrock of professionalism. Even if you are doing this for yourself rather than a team, and even if you get knocked off course most days, working to a prioritised to-do list, and creating a simple timeline for everything, will keep you ahead and make you look efficient.  It also tends to provide great motivation and guard against distraction.

9. Read widely and pull out the PR lessons. For yourself to share with colleagues and to use as quotes or anecdotes in your PowerPoint. Not so easy in a busy life but reading around a subject will always enrich the fertility of your subconscious. I rarely find a book about current affairs that doesn’t teach me something about PR. Sharing nuggets from your reading will also ‘add value’ to team discussions.  (Obviously, be careful not to bore people.) Don’t know where to start? Try political biographies.comms team

10. Think like a millennial, whatever your age. Digital and comms should not be two separate departments. If they are, they need to work hand-in-glove. Imagine you were interviewing someone for a PR job. One candidate says: ‘I know my way around Twitter but I really hate all this social media stuff.’ The other says: ‘social media gives us a really wide range of options, and we can measure the impact of everything if we get across the numbers’. Which one would you hire?

11. Consume media. Stay across the news agenda and refer to it often with less newsy colleagues. As with everything, process will help you here. You could, for example, list 10 websites you flick through every day. Add a couple of TV or radio programmes that you listen to on catch-up – so you can jump through irrelevant items. You don’t have to do everything every day, just do some.

And Finally – Do your own PR

12. PR your own team. Remind colleagues what a good job the comms team does, either keeping things out of the news or winning column inches. Don’t assume colleagues in other departments understand the process or the value. You know the value of PR. Use it to boost the standing of your team. Showcase successes, talk a good game, craft your internal team messages. You never want to hear a senior leader say ‘I just don’t know what the PR team does all day’.

The Media Coach is piloting a new course – Personal Effectiveness Training. It’s all about communicating more effectively. If you, someone in your team or one of your direct reports could communicate better get in touch to discuss a bespoke course: online or face-to-face. Call us on 0207 099 2212 and let’s chat.

 

 

Crafted quotes feature

Choosing Words to Feed the News Monster

Craft your quotes before you go anywhere near a journalist. Use interesting language to highlight a key point but be boring on the stuff you don’t want to see online, in print or on the airwaves. This is how media-savvy people operate.

Crafted quotes from the last week

‘Moonshot’ and ‘Rule of Six’ are both examples in the last few days, of phrases churned out by the government’s spin machine. Both phrases have not just won headlines but also shaped a lot of subsequent debate. ‘Moonshot’ was particularly creative, although many are suspicious that as a policy it will turn out to have no substance, it didn’t stop the news coverage.

Blair and Major pick their words

Also, in the last week, former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major got together to condemn the Prime Minister’s backsliding on the Brexit deal. Their statement claimed the development was ‘shocking’ and it threatened ‘the very integrity of our nation’. They went on: the move was ‘embarrassing the UK’ and ‘irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.’ All carefully chosen phrases to keep momentum building behind the controversy. (This appears to have been successful as the other three living former prime ministers have condemned the Bill that will potentially override the newly signed treaty – and a substantial number of senior Tories are threatening to vote against it). Here is how all this first came to light.

 

As the clip shows, the Government had its own spin on the issue: positioning the Internal Market Bill, as a minor infraction o international law. One wonders, in fact, whether Brandon Lewis intended to be quite so direct when he said ‘yes this does break international law in a specific and limited way’. He appeared to be reading this response, suggesting it was planned, although that might have been affectation. My point is, he could so easily have said something less direct. His phrasing certainly set the agenda for the news cycle.

Did Brandon Lewis mean to be quite so direct?

The cynically minded might think it was deliberate and designed to detract from the rise in COVID cases; stirring up some anti-Europe pro-Brexit sentiment instead. I am always minded to err on the side of cockup over conspiracy myself, but it could be either.

One entertaining element of this row is that while everyone knows the government is prepared to ‘break international law’, very few people seem able to explain in what way. In this case, the spin has spun a thousand miles from the substance of the argument.

Just as the season changes, so do political fortunes. Johnson appears to be losing his Teflon coating and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer seem to be neck and neck in the ‘decent and competent stakes’.  But I can’t help noticing that Sunak is better at the soundbites. (As I said last week the Right in politics appear for now to making all the running in the soundbite stakes). ‘Eat out to help out’ may not have been an original Sunak phrase but it has definitely had cut through and was widely quoted and repeated. ‘No tax horror show’ is another strong quote. I have just spent 10 minutes on Google trying to find some comparable Starmer quote, but couldn’t. Apparently – according to Tatler –  Sunak has the help of his own special adviser, Cass Horowitz who is branded ‘a social media wunderkind’.  This may explain why the chancellor is doing well on grabbing headlines and social media likes.

I know politics should not just be about the spin – and many will argue that it is spin that has cheapened and undermined democratic debate. If that is your view you will deplore this chilling paragraph originally from Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, but picked up by The Week.

crafted quotes

 

Images:
Photo of Patrick Cockburn article
Still from YouTube, Brandon Lewis