Cunliffe makes critical media mistake

20 February 2014
Labour leader David Cunliffe made a critical media training mistake this week when he tried to downplay his affluence and the value of his house. David CunliffeHe tried to create the impression that Prime Minister John Key was out of touch with average New Zealanders because he owned a $10 million house in the leafy suburb of Parnell. This clearly left him open to attack, as he also lives in a wealthy suburb and has an expensive house (although not as expensive). Cunliffe made two mistakes. Firstly, he should have known the comment would come back to haunt him. But more seriously, when it did he tried to downplay his standard of living. He clearly didn’t want potential Labour voters to think he was out of touch with them by living in Herne Bay. But by responding the way he did, he only distanced himself further from them. From a media training perspective, one reason Key is so popular is that he is always upfront. His response to Cunliffe’s comment was something along the lines of: “I’m proud of living in Parnell and make no secret of it. David should also be proud of living in Herne Bay.” But Cunliffe tried to tell people that he was not “that wealthy.” He said things like “Our house was a do up,” and “It’s the worst house in the best street”. He also went on to say him and his wife were of “moderate means,” unlike Key. People don’t care how affluent their leaders are. Potential Labour voters are far more interested in how Cunliffe can make their lives better. But by creating a media issue out of this, he failed to do that. All he did was damage his credibility by trying to downplay his own financial circumstances. For more on our media training 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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