Posts

Jacinda Ardern Image

Jacinda Ardern: Political Leader with a Strong Compass

Jacinda Ardern, it appears, has set the gold standard for how political leaders should respond in a crisis. The praise for her handling of the aftermath of the massacre in Christchurch is coming from all directions. Perhaps most unusually, her picture has been beamed onto Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, accompanied by a special tweet of thanks from Dubai’s Prime Minister, HH Sheikh Mohammed. In New Zealand, almost 20,000 people have signed a petition calling for her to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Jacinda Ardern

Here are a few links to illustrate the extremely positive coverage of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, since the Mosque attacks on March 15th.

The New Yorker – Headline: The roots of Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary leadership after Christchurch.
The Daily Mail – Headline: World’s tallest building lit up with an image of Jacinda Ardern as Sheik Mohammed thanks New Zealand’s Prime Minister for her empathy and support.
Indy100 – Headline: The world is calling for Jacinda Ardern to get the Nobel Peace Prize, here are 7 reasons why she should.
Vogue – Headline: Why Jacinda Ardern is a leader for our times.

So, what did she get so right?

A Swift Response

Firstly, Ardern was swift in her response. She was tweeting and then speaking about the attack on the day it happened. By the following morning, she was in Christchurch. Click here for the timeline.

Above All Inclusive

Secondly, she was sure-footed in her support and sympathy for the Muslim community.

When she spoke ahead of the one-minute silence in Christchurch, she kept it short and quoted from the Koran. Her sentences were sparse and her language very direct. Nothing highbrow here. “New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

Ardern also wore the hijab. Human beings like symbolism. Whether it is a pink ribbon of breast cancer awareness or a silicon wrist band supporting a local charity. Choosing the headscarf, showed humility and respect. A gesture that has been copied by some New Zealanders.

Not Just Talk

Thirdly, she didn’t just speak, she acted. The day after the shooting she said “Our gun laws will change”. Within a week, the government announced legislation banning a range of semi-automatic weapons used in the Christchurch attack. [A stark contrast to the US refusal to reform gun-laws.] Ardern also not only visited Christchurch Muslims but also Muslims in Wellington.

And she promised financial support from the government, to bury the dead and help anyone injured. Here is the full speech but the key paragraphs are:

In an event such as this – murder or manslaughter – the family is eligible for a funeral grant of around $10,000. There are also one-off payments for the deceased’s partner, children and dependents, ongoing assistance provisions for things like childcare and of course compensation for the loss of income.

The Terrorism Word

Fourthly, Ardern did not hesitate to call this attack on Muslims ‘terrorism’. This was significant because there is a perception that a white man going nuts with an arsenal of guns is often described as a lone—wolf attack or instantly related to specific mental health issues; whilst a Muslim man doing the exact same thing will be branded a terrorist, before he has finished shooting. This concern is explored in this article from the Washington Post. Ardern was aware of this and chose to nail her colours to the mast and call the attack terrorism from the outset.

Challenge to Facebook

Finally, she has not flinched from challenging the world to do more to control social media – Facebook in particular. She said: “There are some things we need to confront collectively as leaders internationally…We cannot, for instance, allow some of the challenges we face with social media to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.” This will be a difficult one to follow up on, but she is already in discussions with Facebook.

What Can Others Learn From Jacinda?

Speed is Everything in a Crisis

It is so easy to hesitate and wait to assess the full extent of the crisis.  To be sure of the sequence of events or the nature of the damage. And, of course, an early reaction can be a wrong one. But a fast reaction looks authentic and uncompromising.

Embrace Emotion

Probably the smartest thing about Jacinda Ardern according to my ‘Media Coach’ analysis, is that she doesn’t shy away from emotion. As a young, female political leader you might expect her to be carefully unemotional. New Zealand’s young Prime Minister is prepared to show the world emotion. She lets her actions convince people that she is still rational and prepared to do what is necessary.

Use Simple Language

“We are one” is a very simple phrase but it did the job.

In a closely related incident, Emma Gonzalez the US activist and advocate for gun control gave a speech that went viral in February last year. She is a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida. She explained in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, that she felt she needed to find a phrase that would be repeated by others. “I knew I would get my job done properly at that rally if I got people chanting something. And I thought ‘We call B.S.’ has four syllables, that’s good, I’ll use that’  A super smart young woman!

Most people struggle to come up with the right words and many would have rejected both ‘We are one’ and ‘We call B.S.’ for being too simplistic. But in both cases, people were repeating them almost as soon as they were uttered.

Don’t Dismiss Symbolism

We are a pack species and we want to belong to a pack or tribe. Wearing something is a simple and easy way to say ‘me too’. But someone has to catch the mood and start it. Wearing the Muslim-style headscarf did just that.

Action Followed Words

The banning of automatic weapons. The instant offer of money. There is a need for action to make sympathy and concern convincing. Whether it is money or changing something, it needs to come swiftly.

It will be fascinating to see to what extent others follow the Jacinda way in the months and years ahead.

Photo Tweeted by HH Sheikh Mohammed

crisis

Crisis management: that’s the way to do it!

In my last blog for The Media Coach, I wrote about the importance of facing the media during times of crisis.
In that article, I credited former UKIP leader Henry Bolton for agreeing to take part in interviews with journalists after the revelation of racist texts made by his new girlfriend but criticised his lack of messaging skills.

crisis

Chief Constable Jon Boutcher made the difficult decision to let the filming continue as one of his own team was arrested.

Crisis management: superb example

One month later – and I note in passing that Henry Bolton is no longer the leader of UKIP –  a superb example of how to engage with the media in a crisis has come to light.

It follows filming for 24 Hours in Police Custody – Channel 4’s fly-on-the-wall documentary series set inside Luton police station. During a recent blackmail investigation, it emerged that the blackmailer himself was not only one of the police officers working on the case, but part of the team monitoring a local lay-by where the £1,000 hush money demanded had been left for collection. Newspaper coverage of the case can be found here and the subsequent video of Detective Gareth Suffling’s arrest can be seen here.

Warts and all: how we deal with people

So why did the Chief Constable not pull the cameras and refuse to let the footage of the arrest be shown? In Jon Boutcher’s own words during a BBC TV interview the morning after the programme was transmitted: “What this programme shows, warts and all, is how we deal with people with care and respect – whether they are a member of our own or a member of the public, when they commit offences. And how can we get our public to trust us and to have confidence in us if they can’t see who we are as people? I think the programme demonstrated last night just how we deal with people who sadly on occasions let us down in the police service.

“This is a human tragedy in my view – the story of a young guy, a Detective Constable with an incredible future – who, for whatever reasons, and I don’t think we’ve ever really fully understood why he did what he did… And that concerns me. It concerns me with regard to how that could have occurred… If people are in trouble, if people are struggling in any way – whether it’s financial or otherwise – they should reach out for a helping hand.

Crisis management: transparency is key

“I accept that this programme and full editorial control sits with Garden Productions who make the programme – not with me. It would be against the values as to why we do this programme, if suddenly when we don’t like something, we shut it down… But what is more transparent, for our communities to see who we are? Normal people, from their communities, as public servants, policing those communities in the very best way we can.” His full reasoning can be found in this YouTube video.

It was a brave and controversial decision. Indeed, Jon Boutcher admits that he’s had criticism from colleagues, including other Chief Constables, with regards to the previous series. But in agreeing to show the footage, he demonstrates a level of police accountability, transparency and fairness which immediately goes some way to repair the damage caused by the initial arrest. And how much worse would it have been for Bedfordshire Police to have been seen to be trying to hide the film, once news of the arrest came out, if they had prevented it from being shown?

What’s more, Jon Boutcher talks about the case in conversational language (“warts and all”, “human tragedy”, “helping hand”), far removed from the ‘police-speak’ we are so often subjected to; a memorable message, said powerfully.

As an extra benefit, he adds: “the interest we’ve had from people now seeking to join the police service because of this programme, is really encouraging.”

 

Picture is a screen grab from YouTube.

Oxfam Crisis Goldring

Oxfam Crisis notes

Oxfam is in crisis. There must be a whole book of ‘lessons’ from the implosion of this once great British organisation. An implosion caused by a seven-year-old scandal exposed by The Times newspaper last Friday. It is ghastly to watch and a text book example of a ‘crisis’ where new damaging elements of the negative story continue to emerge every day.

Oxfam will be lucky to survive

I feel compelled to declare my personal opinion about this Oxfam crisis. As many know I have worked a lot with charities and agencies in the developing world. I am a huge fan of ‘development work’ in all its guises. If more people knew the great work that is done, the more they would support it.

But it seems all too common for individual incidents of bad behaviour or bad management to be blown out of all proportion in order to discredit all or any development work. There are swathes of society who, with little knowledge of the reality on the ground in developing countries, believe money should not be ‘wasted’ helping people ‘over there’. They are quick to take any example of mismanagement or misappropriation of funds to prove their preconception. The Daily Mail in particular plays to this agenda in ways that many find hugely distasteful. My sympathy is all with Oxfam although of course not with those accused of wrong doing.

Oxfam crisis analysis

That said let’s look at the lessons of this Oxfam crisis.

Public outrage gets ahead of the law. The press likes to bay for blood as soon as any act that would offend a Victorian prude, comes to light. (Always remember this is fake outrage. Few journalists are paragons of virtue in their private lives). The Oxfam country director in Haiti, 7 years ago, admitted to paying for sex. Just to help the headline writers, the party where this happened has been dubbed a ‘Caligula like orgy’ – by ‘sources’ that spoke to The Times. He agreed to step down but his employer, Oxfam, chose not to sack him and not to prevent him working in his profession in the future.

Bad media crises have a habit of having many chapters. If the thing journalists have got their teeth into initially in a crisis is not actually illegal they will often switch the focus to ‘transparency’. Transparency is really difficult when dealing with personnel, commercial and many other issues.

The take-way is that as soon as a crisis starts, someone in the affected organisation needs to be reminding decision-makers that at any moment the whole focus could switch to ‘transparency’. Organisations need to be prepared to be totally transparent or find rock-solid reasons why they cannot be. Transparency can be brutal. Here is an article in CEO Magazine about transparency in a crisis.

Oxfam crisis: what could be done

Anyway, the only way to stop a crisis like this once it gets going is:

  • Sack a whole load of people or have them resign. Be careful if you sack, they may sue as Sharon Shoesmith, the social worker in the Baby P case did. And she won. Story here. 
  • Make an abject public apology. Here is Oxfam’s from CEO Mark Goldring. 
  • Make vast amounts of detail available to journalists who will quickly get bored.
  • Have spokespeople trained and ready to handle the sort of aggressive questioning that we have seen on every serious news programme.
  • Hire someone like Alistair Campbell or a specialist crisis firm (or us) to do your messaging and reactive lines. These need to be much more than wishy-washy statements of good intent. You will need substance and a forensic like approach to possible questions.
Oxfam Crisis Mark Goldring

Mark Goldring CBE, Oxfam’s CEO, made a clear and complete apology.

If you are an organisation full of decent honest people who expect the rest of the world to be measured, decent and honest you have a huge handicap. You will not realise the potential for the crisis to get out of hand and you will not expect the media to go for the jugular. One problem is that sometimes the media does and sometimes it doesn’t. Any doomsayer might be wrong and might damage his or her career by saying ‘this could go ballistic’ when it then doesn’t.

For students of media training lets look at two of the many interviews on this subject.

In this Newsnight interview with Dame Barbara Stocking, the CEO of Oxfam at the time of the Haiti operation, the scandalous bits are all the ‘outraged’ questions from Emily Maitlis. The measured responses from Dame Barbara are barely newsworthy. It was a difficult interview but overall she did well. Personally, I would have liked her to offer a solid apology and be a bit more robust in defense of the decisions Oxfam took. But she was credible and had solid answers. Note this interview was a pre-record. Not a good idea. Dame Barbara should have done it live.

Our second example is a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview on 12th February – one hour ten minutes in, that is 7.10am. (Remember this disappears after one month.) In this unimpresive interview with Michelle Russell, Head of Investigations at the Charity Commission, it is clear that she had only one simple message and not enough detail to sustain the interview. She appears to be taken aback that Matthew Price, the interviewer, is questioning the competence of the Charity Commissioners themselves. She struggles to cope with what for her was apparently unexpected aggression.

It is the season of sex scandals

It is the season of sex scandals. Post Harvey Weinstein, many things that might in the past have not seemed to be a scandal – potentially are now. I doubt any organisation has no skeletons in the cupboard and I expect most have no idea how they would cope if the spotlight turned on them.

The Orville imagines the rule of law administered by twitter

I cannot finish without recommending a recent episode of The Orville – a brilliant skit on Star Trek running on Fox. In Season 1 Episode 7 Majority Rule, the team visit a parallel planet to Earth, Sargus 4, where the law is administered by popular vote on a planet-wide twitter-like feed. Whilst it is hilarious it is also a bit too close to Earth 2018 for comfort. This is not unrelated to the Oxfam scandal.

 

Crisis media interview

Crisis Media Interviews: Face the music – but sing from the right song sheet

Crisis media interviews are understandably terrifying, and most people chose to avoid them and stick to that familiar phrase ‘no comment’. Here at The Media Coach, we spend a lot of time encouraging those who suddenly find themselves in a difficult situation with the media, to be bold and accept requests for interviews.

The PR best practice handbook, were it to exist, would explain that the ‘vacuum’ which would be caused by the absence of timely comments can quickly be filled by something even more damaging. If you don’t talk it is likely your enemies or detractors will.

However, it’s absolutely critical on such occasions the spokesperson has his or her messaging sorted with pin-sharp accuracy, as well as preparing and rehearsing answers to the tirade of negative enquiries.

Henry Bolton had clearly not been given such advice. The UKIP leader (at the time of writing, anyway) had left his wife and children for glamour model Jo Marney who subsequently was discovered to have sent racist texts, some of which were about the most recent addition to the royal family, Meghan Markle. Bolton appeared on national TV and radio the morning after he and his girlfriend had decided to part company.

 

Whilst credit goes to him for facing the media in a series of interviews (BBC 1 Breakfast, BBC Radio 4, ITV’s Good Morning Britain, LBC, Talk Radio and the rest), what emerged was a confused, chaotic, hesitant, and humiliating performance which was almost as destructive as deciding not to do the interviews in the first place.

For the benefit of others who might find themselves facing a series of crisis media interviews, here are three main reasons why every single interview went so badly:

1) Misplaced concern

Unbelievably, during all of his media interviews, Bolton seemed more interested in talking about how “absolutely distraught” his former girlfriend was with the fallout from her racist messages than the offensive nature of the texts themselves. He also suggested that he wanted to “help her re-build her life” and “support her family” (these are the relatives of someone he had been dating for just four days), rather than talking about the support he might provide for his wife of seven years and their two young children back at home.

2) Arguing over minor details

If Bolton had prepared his key messages, he would have been able to focus on getting them across. Without them, he wasted time and effort trying to contradict the interviewers on minor, irrelevant points. So he tried to claim that Jo Marney’s messages had “been taken out of context” – although failed to reveal what sort of context would make such messages acceptable. He also talked about the fact that the original messages were meant to be private (as if that suddenly made them OK). Similarly, when it was put it to him that the content of the messages were “still her views”, he tried to argue “Well, no they’re not, actually” – but failed to explain why anyone would expound views which they didn’t believe.

3) Ambiguity about the future

When events in the recent past have been as chaotic as those experienced by Henry Bolton, the future should have presented a chance to make statements which are simple, clear and unambiguous. But that opportunity was missed, with the curious suggestion that “the romantic side of our relationship is over”, whilst adding that they were “not breaking contact”, then arguing that he hadn’t “dumped” her and that he would be “standing by her”. Both journalist and audience could be forgiven for being left uncertain about what the nature of their future relationship might be.

So whilst it’s almost always better for interviewees to face the media, they should do so only when they’ve got their messaging and reactive lines sorted out. To his cost, Henry Bolton is an example of a man who had neither.

If you would like further reading on this, my colleague Catherine Cross wrote a blog some weeks ago with her top tips for handling a crisis including crisis media interviews.