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My assessment of Andrew Little's media skills

19 November 2014

The new Labour Leader needs to work on his media skills without trying to become someone he is not. That would be a huge mistake.

So what is he already good at?

Little never beats around the bush. He ‘cuts to the chase.’ That is a vital skill these days where politicians usually have about 8 seconds to make their point in a television news story. David Shearer struggled with this, whereas John Key is an expert. Little should cope with this well. The only area he might want to work on is how he makes those points.

Key is an expert because he doesn’t just make the point, he dresses it up in language that media find irresistible to use and audiences like to hear. We focus heavily on this in our media training workshops.

For example, when the UN delegates were in New Zealand earlier this year being wined and dined on the taxpayer to help our bid for a seat on the Security Council, Key was asked by media how much that cost. He didn’t say: “I can’t tell you that because we don’t want our competitors for the seat to know.” Instead he dressed it up in language that made the point more interesting and in a way he knew the media would use and viewers would remember. He said: “Telling you that would be like Steve Hansen giving the England Rugby Coach the All Blacks game plan before next week’s test.”

While Little cuts to the chase, he needs to become more of an expert at talking in sound bites like this. In other words, make his points but using interesting language like analogies, concrete examples, personal stories or absolutes. That would give him more chance of getting his points used by journalist and remembered by potential voters.

What does he need to work on?

Little can come across as dry. This is something he needs to work on without going over the top. Being dry is not a deal-breaker. Look at Steve Hansen. But it can be confused with lack of passion or enthusiasm. The best way he can find the right balance is through mock interview practice. He needs to be himself, but the most animated he can naturally be. Practice is the only way to find this delicate balance. David Cunliffe got this wrong during the Election Campaign. He looked as though he was acting at times. That was a major turn-off for voters. Little needs to be as animated as possible, without looking stage managed like Cunliffe did.

This is a fine line because he needs to gain respect for being natural as well as passionate. That’s what Key does so well and what Little needs to emulate in his own way. But I must stress that his own way may be quite different to Key. Time will tell.

For more on my media training or crisis communication planning workshops, contact pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz or 029 200 8555.

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.

Add a comment2 Comments

Reply Andrew Healey | November 20th, 2014 at 9:11am
Interesting insight, Pete. It will be interesting to see how Andrew Little goes as Labour Leader. Apart from livening up a bit, I think he also needs to ditch the out-of-date political rhetoric that turns so many voters off.
Reply Pete Burdon | November 20th, 2014 at 12:16pm
Great point Andrew. I agree he needs a fresh new approach (but without trying to become someone he is not.) It's going to be interesting to see how he develops.

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