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Fake Outrage – Simples!

Fake outrage has had a great outing in the last week. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, sparked masses of column inches when she quoted the annoying Meerkat on the ‘compare the market.com’ adverts – by using the word ‘Simples’ in the House of Commons. [I’ve posted here previously about fake outrage].

Fake Outrage Image

The Meerkat’s favourite catchphrase was used by the PM in the House of Commons.

Fake Outrage in the Headlines

Apparently, this was a ‘misguided lunge at cultural relevance’ according to Michael Deacon in the Telegraph.

According to the Daily Mail it was ‘embarrassing’.

Huffington Post went for ‘bizarre’.

The Maybot

Theresa May is a terrible public speaker and she deserves the ‘Maybot’ tag. But really. Why does the fact that she used a made-up word, currently in common parlance, worthy of any coverage at all, never mind all this fake outrage? If anyone else had used it (Ken Clarke, John Macdonald, Amber Rudd) I doubt it would have been mentioned except on BBC Radio 4’s dreary Yesterday in Parliament.

Of course, it now seems she was persuaded to use the phrase by an aide, Seema Kennedy who had a bet on it with Simon Hoare MP. Bullshit Bingo, as it is called in several places I have worked, is a common little game that wordsmiths play: there is a small reward for the first person to get a particular – often unusual, bizarre or specific – phrase into a report or a speech or a broadcast. Journalists play this game all the time!

 Bullshit Bingo

This is a bit embarrassing for the Prime Minister, especially as she was probably unaware of the Bullshit Bingo bet. It makes her look gullible. Having said that, it is surely not worth comment that someone who is doing an almost impossible job and talking publicly about it every day, has people around her who suggest particular lines or phrases.

Using a phrase from popular culture is really not a crime. Nor do I understand why it can be characterised as ‘a misguided lunge at cultural relevance’. In many ways being colloquial is a good idea. It makes your speech less boring. And let’s face it, important though Brexit is, right now we are all pretty bored with the minutiae of the arguments around it.

Journalists manufacture fake outrage to entertain us all. They also pretend or imply that everyone else feels the outrage. There are many things that prompt outrage in me but ‘Simples’ is simply not one of them.

 

 

 

senior leaders

Senior leaders – get media trained before you need it

Senior leaders are often booked into media training by PR professionals who are tearing their hair out. So often, successful, super-professional ‘talent’ has somehow missed out on a few of the basics of good external communication and are suddenly required to front a product launch or a PR campaign.

Senior leaders need communications skills

It is so common, so stressful for all concerned and so preventable, I think it is worth a blog post.

Senior leaders

Take the case of Theresa May – for many years an ambitious career politician now struggling with a hugely difficult job. Most of us in the PR business believe a few basic lessons in presentation, delivery and handling media interviews might have totally changed her fortunes. The problem, as I see it, is that she didn’t get the training on the way up and now, with the top job and a different crisis every day, there is no time to do it.

And we see exactly this in the corporate world. Senior leaders are incredibly busy. Diary management is a headache and a full-time job – outsourced to PAs, and EAs  for many of those we train. Trying to persuade these hard-pressed staff that a media trainer needs four hours in someone’s diary is likely to get the response – ‘sorry but can you do it in 45 minutes and by the way, he (or she) will probably be running late.’

A few hours is a good investment

But actually, four or even eight hours training over the career of a senior leader is a very small commitment. It is difficult to predict how many media interviews someone is likely to do in the future but we know for sure they will be doing countless presentations. And while some presentation training is provided, a lot of people slip through the net and still do it very badly.

My belief is that communications training – covering external versus internal comms, understanding the media, social media, messaging and interview control should be core subjects in management training programmes. And these should also include some coaching on delivery style. Being able to ‘perform’ whether in front of an audience or a journalist is also an essential skill. (I have written previously about how poor presentations are endemic in business.)

Incredibly useful professionally

I have lost count of the number of times people finish a media training session saying ‘even if I never speak to the media this is has been incredibly useful professionally’.

senior leaders

The ideal is to do it early, do it well and then top up the training as and when it is needed for specific events. That will avoid the sort of query I receive at least once a week: “can you cover press, radio and TV and give us some help with the messaging for three people in three hours?” It can be done but just not as well as I would like to do it.

So, if you are a learning development officer or an HR professional and some of this rings true – I would suggest asking your PR team about the problems they run into when looking for capable spokespeople. Then if you find I am right, start planning media and presentation training for your emerging leaders. If you think you are yourself an ‘emerging leader’ take my advice and wangle your way onto a media training course before you find you need it. You won’t regret it.