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Key shows media training skills with school closures

21 September 2012
The government announcement that a number of schools in Christchurch will either close or amalgamate was always going to be unpopular, but John Key has shown his media training skills in his response to the anger. Issues like this are never easy to win for a government, because no matter how justifiable, facts never win over emotion. With 4500 school students leaving Christchurch after the Earthquake, it’s inevitable that schools will have to close. But try telling that to a community whose life revolves around the local school. The best way to deal with this from a media training standpoint is to accept this emotion and tell that community that you understand their frustration, before moving on to the reasoning. This is exactly what John Key has done over the last few days. For example, he told Fairfax he “had great sympathy for the parents and the anxiety they feel.” While that will not be enough to comfort them, it does go some way to appeasing some. He went on: "Consolidations are always hard on families. When you close any schools, they feel anxiety.” We always tell our media training clients that they must accept the emotion of affected parties in such situations, before moving onto the facts of the matter, as Key did in this case. Education Minister Hekia Parata had a tough job selling this one, but from a media training perspective, she could have followed Key’s lead a bit more. For example, before answering questions on live TV interviews, she could say something like: “Before I answer your questions, I’d just like to say that we have the utmost sympathy for those affected communities, and we understand the stress they are going though.” By doing that, she would come across as a sensitive and caring Minister, even though she has to make some tough decisions.

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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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