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Why Colin Craig isn't getting any traction

1 August 2014

When people first saw Colin Craig, they liked him. He was a political novice, but seemed likeable and honest.

That’s probably why he got close to three percent in the last General Election. But when that novelty wears off, and it has, more is needed.  He needs a message, something people like that distinguishes him and his party from the rest.

National focus on their management of the economy, while Labour traditionally concentrate on getting a fair go for workers. In an MMP system, the smaller parties also need a focus. The Greens are about the Environment, Act advocate for less government and NZ First are about putting New Zealanders ahead of foreigners.

But where do the Conservatives sit? They need to sort this out to become a viable voting option. This lack of a focus is also why Craig gets into all sorts of trouble. He answers every question in media interviews at face value. For example, when asked if he believed people landed on the Moon, he said he didn’t know because he wasn’t there (Even though he later said his view was that they did land on the moon). So what he should have said was: “Yes….but what’s more important today is….then turn the conversation to something he wanted to talk about. This is a basic media training lesson and totally credible. The key here is answering the question first.

In other words, answer the question, but then transfer to something you want to talk about. By failing to do that, he falls into so many media traps and follow-up questions that change the focus of the story to make him look weird. It also means the Conservative message (whatever it is) never gets out.

So what should their message be? If I was advising them, I would focus on “the importance of open and honest government.” That might not seem like a big issue, but I believe it is. Look at the GCSB issue, and the problems both major parties have had recently about perceived dishonesty. This is also something some people already respect about Craig. So why not make the most of it?

This also resonates with some party policies. For example, binding referenda fits into this. So does his court battle with Russel Norman.

If he had a clear message, his party would have an identity. It would also keep him out of trouble by giving him something to fall back on when asked difficult questions. Honest and open government would be my advice. But they need to do something soon if they are to have any chance of reaching the 5 percent threshold.

For more on my media training or crisis communication workshops, email pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz

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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