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John Banks makes big Media Training mistake

4 May 2012
The decision by John Banks not to comment on whether he knew Kim Dotcom had made a $50,000 donation to his mayoral campaign in 2010 was a major media training mistake. On the Q + A programme last Sunday, Banks kept refusing to answer repeated questions from Paul Holmes about whether he knew where the donation came from. From a media training perspective, he should have answered that question. Failure to do so only harmed his reputation among viewers. He later admitted his reason to avoid answering was because of legal advice he wished he hadn't taken. This brings up an interesting dilemma people sometimes face. Basically, lawyers are concerned about the court of law, while PR professionals and media training experts are focused on the court of public opinion. In other words, media training experts often argue that the loss of reputation and credibility by avoiding questions can be worse than anything that happens if they answer honestly. For example, if a business made a bad mistake that led to the death of customers, it may be best to front up in the media early and admit responsibility if its management knew it was at fault. This is because failure to do so can cause more harm due to loss of reputation. Failure to comment or admit an obvious mistake could see customers leaving in droves and that could be worse than any consequence of being honest. It can even help reduce any penalty as businesses that don't comment in these situations can be seen as cold and more concerned with profits than staff. That’s a very black and white example and I’m not saying Banks is guilty of anything or that he will end up in court. But his failure to answer those questions on Q+A will have harmed his reputation among many viewers.

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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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