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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

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Mugwumps stole a lot of headlines last week.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, wrote a piece for The Sun in which he suggested that people may think Jeremy Corbyn (leader of the opposition Labour Party) was a ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’ and feel sorry for him, but in fact he poses an enormous threat to our country if he gets into Number 10 Downing Street.

Mugwumps steal news headlines

You may think this is just Boris being Boris, colourful language is what he does and not much else: more buffoonery than strategy.

Mugwumps dominated news agenda

Well, I beg to differ. Boris dominated the news agenda for a full day with the mugwump insult. It was a day in which he was on numerous media outlets – saying all sorts of things, some of them controversial, but no one was interested in anything but mugwumps. During that day we were all reminded perhaps a thousand times – at least if you are a news junky– that Corbyn could be characterised as a ‘mugwump’ and by implication a rather soft and muddled individual unfit to run the country. This is way more coverage and way more effective than Conservative leader and Prime Minister Theresa May’s more sensible mantra of ‘strong and stable leadership’.

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Corbyn’s response to Mugwump insult: ‘We are eight days into the election, and Boris Johnson has run out of serious arguments …. I don’t do name-calling’.

My personal theory is that Boris used to say stupid things by accident but in doing so learnt the power of a colourful phrase. Now he ‘weaponises language’ with deadly effect. The Telegraph helpfully collected some of the great Boris quotes, many of which I suspect were less crafted and planned than the mugwump insult.

Mugwumps: an example of weaponising language

The ‘mugwump’ insult was a focus for a set-piece 8:10 interview on BBC Radio 4 Today programme where it was helpfully repeated for those chattering classes that do not stoop to read The Sun newspaper. The story then led the BBC’s political coverage for most of the day.

Mugwumps: a raft of ‘explainers.’

The press for two days was then full of ‘mugwump explainers’. Here are a few.

The Metro headline was: “Mugwump is actually a word, and this is what it means”

The Guardian headline was:  What is a mugwump? An insult that only Boris Johnson would use. This also includes a snappy little video with the history of the word.

The Times – behind a paywall – sorry – but headline: “This mugwump is a dandiprat”

Birmingham Mail headline: what is a mugwump? This university professor has the answer.

And there are many more.

Boris used ‘mugwump’ to create acres of coverage for what the Conservatives believe is their most important differentiator in the election; comparing the leadership style of Jeremy Corbyn to the strong, sensible, mainstream style of Theresa May.

Mugwumps and Media Trainers

All of our trainers work to help clients with their messages. We try to help them with carefully crafted quotable phrases that will sum up an argument in a way that gets headlines (even if only in the trade press). Serious people constantly and consistently shy away from saying anything ‘too racy’ or anything that makes them appear ‘unprofessional’ or ‘not serious enough’. We understand. But we do not believe those people always understand the ‘opportunity-cost’. 

Just in case you haven’t caught on, we at The Media Coach call prepared quotable language ‘sizzle’ and we blog and tweet about this regularly – you can follow the twitter handle @mediasizzle if you want to see the world the way we see it. If you want us to help you build quotable messages, then give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Jeremy Corbyn image used under Flickr creative comms

 

 

Lagarde

The Greek crisis in soundbites: this week’s top 5

Greece has been getting our attention at The Media Coach this week, meaning that quotes about the impasse over the debt crisis are grabbing headlines and making an impact.

As our clients know, our word for quotable language is ‘Sizzle’ which comes from the old marketing phrase ‘Sell the sizzle not the sausages’, meaning you need to put a spin on the language of your key message if you want journalists to pick it up as their quote.

In Greek I believe the word is το τσιτσίρισμα (to tsitsírisma) although please do correct me if I am wrong.

Here’s a quick analysis of some of the main quotes we liked this week (unfortunately, the Juncker cow metaphor was last week’s fodder, so it doesn’t make the final edit).  And for once, the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis isn’t leading the charge (which just goes to show how serious the crisis must be if all the key players are out there being quotable).

1. Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Greek Speaker of the Parliament scooped headlines by describing the Greek debt as ‘illegal, illegitimate and odious’. This no-holds barred tricolon is classic Syriza – uncompromising, hyperbolic and immensely quotable (both in Greek and English).  This kind of approach served the party’s leaders well when they were building their media profile in opposition. It’s not working so well now that the reality of being in power and the compromises they need to make with the Troika (European Commission, IMF and ECB) are kicking in. Beware excessive hyperbole – once you’ve used up all your red-hot phrases you’ve got nowhere to go and can look foolish. But in the meantime, it’s catnip for journalists.

2. Christine Lagarde
On Thursday the ever cool IMF boss opined that Greece can only arrive at a deal with its creditors through a proper dialogue ‘with adults in the room’. This put down is all the more withering because the colloquial language paints word pictures of squabbling children (no question who Lagarde is wagging the finger at) and goes against our idea of  the stuffy bureaucratic language that is normally used to characterise these kinds of talks.

Lagarde

IMF boss Christine Lagade said ‘adults’ were needed to resolve the Greek debt crisis.

3. Angela Merkel
You can’t really do a piece about Greece without featuring the German Chancellor Angela Merkel somewhere. Not exactly known for her pithy soundbites (even German-speaking journalists find it tough to edit her) Merkel put her head above the parapet on Wednesday with an uncharacteristically sharp comment that Greece had received ‘unprecedented help’. This is quotable, clear but still measured. It’s not the most exciting but given Merkel’s position and the context it’s still arresting.

4. The Bank of Greece
On Wednesday the Bank warned for the first time of Greece’s ‘painful’ exit from the Eurozone and (probably) the EU if the talks failed. We all get what painful means…. so nothing too remarkable here but how much more striking because the message is not expressed as a ‘sharp fiscal and monetary re-adjustment’ or something generic and dull.

5. Peter Kazimir
Slovakian Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, who can always be relied on for a frank statement, injected a bit of tongue in cheek colour to the emergency eurogroup meeting yesterday by telling reporters: “I do believe in miracles. I am Catholic so I believe in miracles’. A bit of well-judged irony can do wonders for a quote, particularly in this context which has consistently been characterised by the media as  Greek tragedy. Maybe Kazimir should have said ‘deus ex machina’ at this point…

These are just our top quotes of the week. Please do tweet me other suggestions (@mediawhizz) or favourites or comment on the blog.

Have a good weekend.