Media advice for campaigning politicians

6 June 2014

When trying to convince people to vote for them, politicians for all sides of Parliament often use language that average New Zealanders don’t understand. Nowhere is this more important than in the media.

Journalists sometimes clarify things, but they too can assume that language they understand must be common knowledge. Also, they can’t control what politicians say in live media interviews.

We always tell our media training clients to use the most basic language as possible. That way, everyone understands. We all have our own niches and often assume that others will understand if we do.

Back to the politicians. I bet that if you asked 100 voters what Fiscal Policy is, very few would know. So you would be far better to say something like “Looking after the Government’s purse.” The other one I often hear from the Right is that the Left’s policies are just “Tax and spend.” Again, I would doubt may people know what that means. They may think it’s what all Governments do. So with that one, it’s important to explain what they mean and why they say it’s a bad thing.

The Left often talk about the Tories in a derogatory sense. Not many people would understand that term either. I could list many more examples.

This is an important factor for both National and Labour, because most centre voters won’t understand these terms. Only those working in politics or finance will comprehend them.

My advice is to think about this before any media interview or speech. Also remember that people are not impressed by big words. They only want to understand you in the simplest way possible. Winston Churchill got it. He asked his speak writers to keep most words to two syllables or less. He got his messages through and was seen as a great communicator.

For more on my media training or crisis communication workshops, contact


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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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