At Communicate Media, we provide Media Training and crisis communications training and issue management training for various organisations. Some of them are in serious trouble – either because of a mistake they’ve made themselves or due to circumstances beyond their control. However, we can honestly say that we don’t think we’ve ever had to deal with a client that has suffered the same adverse reaction among all its target audiences as the current government.
In Media Training and corporate communications terms, Liz Truss’s team has made some regrettable mistakes. So, what can public relations professionals and those involved in corporate communications learn from what has gone wrong?
Liz Truss Mistakes
It’s interesting that whatever you think of the policies, the main problem has been a lack of communication. It’s generally accepted that the Chancellor did not warn the markets about his proposed changes in the tax regime as he should have. Open communications with your target audiences, be that the media, clients, suppliers, or regulators, is essential for companies and organisations. When channels are open and communications are working well if you have to take an unpopular decision, make a mistake or suffer because of somebody else’s error, then at least you’ve laid the groundwork; so you should have a generally benign context to deliver your response to the situation.
We always tell clients in our crisis communications training courses that they need to act quickly when things go wrong. “Tell it all, tell it quickly and tell it truthfully” is the mantra. The fact that Liz Truss spent nearly a week not saying anything with her Chancellor almost equally reticent meant that commentators could fill the airwaves with the voices of her critics while the markets and other audiences were left wondering what was happening.
Having statements prepared
We advise the companies and organisations that we provide crisis communications training to have templates of statements ready to roll. These can be tweaked and amended to fit the particular circumstances of a crisis or adverse situation. Having this head start on the response means they can act more quickly. In our opinion, when Liz Truss finally popped up to talk to journalists, the strategy and her delivery were both left wanting.
Why did she talk to local media rather than national outlets? Local journalists are often the most trusted research shows because they are seen as embedded in the local community. But in our media coaching workshops, we point out that they are not a soft touch. Local reporters often ask the most challenging questions, especially those with a strong human element. As the prime minister also discovered, they will introduce local issues such as fracking in this case, which can catch spokespeople off guard if they don’t know the local area.
Having been snubbed, as they saw, by Number 10, many of the foremost commentators and outlets were particularly critical and gave more column inches and air time to commentators who were attacking the government.
Liz Truss’s performances were not great either. She offered little sympathy to those who might find themselves suffering because of rising interest rates. We advise people to take the initiative during media interviews and to get their key messages across. Still, we stress that you must connect with the journalist’s questions and focus on the audience. Liz Truss did very little of this.
Susanna Reid commenting on PR and Comms
On Good Morning Britain, presenter Susanna Reid read this quote from Liz Truss, “What I am focused on is making sure we help people get through this winter and next winter. That is why we have put in place the energy price guarantee”. Reid responded, ‘You can hear, can’t you, in Liz Truss’s interviews, almost hear the PR people, her comms people say, ‘Keep talking about the energy price guarantee,’ because of course, that was the good news”. When journalists start talking about your PR people, comms advice, and media training, you know you’re in trouble!
Of course, the prime minister was right to talk about the practical financial support that the government is offering people during these difficult times, as this certainly ticks the “What’s in it for me?” box, but before she did this, she really ought to have addressed the other questions put to her.
What’s next for the government?
As the Conservative party conference continues with the Prime Minister’s keynote speech, we’ll watch with interest to see how she addresses these problematic issues. How well she escapes intact from what should have been a celebration of her leadership victory remains to be seen. However, as Media Training experts and crisis communications training consultants, you can bet that we’ll be watching with interest.
Media Training London
As we said, we have cannot remember a disaster like the government is facing in terms of PR and comms, however, if your company faces something similar, you will want to be prepared.