5 media spokesperson lessons from Election

29 September 2017

1 How you come across in the media means just as much, or more than policy

If anything Jacinda’s policy platform was worse than Andrew Little’s (mainly around the ‘captains call’ on the tax working group and the backtrack on that)’. Despite this, she moved the party from 23 percent in the polls to 35 percent on Election Day.

THE LESSON. Make sure your leader comes across well in the news media, otherwise find someone else.


 2 People care more about how you deal with a mistake than the fact you made it in the first place

When Metiria Turei first admitted to defrauding Social Welfare when a student, she was praised for being honest. The Greens even went up in the polls. But when more information came out and she refused to apologize, the Green vote plummeted. If she had apologized immediately, things could have been quite different for the Greens.

THE LESSON. If you make a mistake, apologize immediately and unreservedly.


3. Narrowing down your message works

So often political parties, and business leaders try to focus on too many points. That means people remember none of them. But if you focus on a few, people remember all of them. National mastered this with the focus on Labour’s tax policies.

THE LESSON. Work out what the main points are that you want to get across and focus on them exclusively.


4. Anyone can improve their media skills

Bill English has never been classed as a media star or someone with that x-factor that some people have. But he improved out of sight during the campaign. He used to look mundane, monotone and expressed little passion, even though it may well have been there. But he was a new man during the campaign. He smiled, gestured and genuinely looked like a competent Prime Minister with personality.

THE LESSON. If you don’t think you are a good media communicator, get some training and practice. If Bill English can do it, you can too. You never know when you might need these skills.


 5. You can change the focus of a media interview or campaign

The media want interesting stories. They don’t care whether they help you or hinder you. Why would they? That’s not their job. So you need to give them something interesting that benefits you, particularly if the media are focused on an area you’d rather not talk about. This is exactly what National did with the mysterious Fiscal Hole. Whether it was there or not, it got the media focused on an area National wanted to talk about. It also got Labour on the back foot.

THE LESSON. You have some control. It’s never about just answering media questions. You need to be proactive and steer media away from danger areas by giving them something interesting that also benefits you. This is true of individual interviews and entire campaigns.


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Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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