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Cunliffe media training skills will hurt Greens

19 September 2013
David Cunliffe’s media training skills will see Labour gain far more media coverage than under former leader David Shearer. This will hurt the Greens more than any other party. David CunliffePolitical reporters always look for party leaders to offer interesting comments opposing government policy. This is something Shearer was not good at. He had a point to get across, but he never mastered the art of the 10 second sound bite. His predecessor Phil Goff was the same. For that reason, the media often turned to Greens co-leader Russell Norman for an opposing view. With his media training skills, he is able to give journalists the sound bite they want. At the same time he has helped grow the popularity of his party. But now Labour has a leader who does possess the necessary media training skills. Although he has to watch the perception that he is too patronising, Cunliffe does know what the media want and how to give it to them. For example, he had only been in the job a few minutes when he used a classic sound bite to sum up his feelings about the immediate future of his party. The point he wanted to make was that it’s time for a new start and he wanted the entire caucus to be a part of that. But with his understanding of the media, he didn’t say it like that. Instead he said: “This train is leaving the station and I want everyone on board.” That’s a great sound bite because it uses an analogy, it’s exciting and it allows journalists to bring their stories to life.  He could have just said: “It’s time for a new start and I want everyone involved.” But that would not be as interesting. Journalists want something more interesting that will excite readers. This is what Cunliffe’s sound bite did. This is a lesson for anyone faced with talking to the media. If you can dress up your messages in language journalists like to use, you significantly increase the chances of your messages making it into the story. Russell Norman understands this. That’s why so many people over recent months have commented that the Greens have almost become the major opposition party. But now things may change. Expect to see more of Cunliffe and less of Norman as we approach another election year.

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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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