'Oh no, not more analysis of the general election' we hear you cry.
Well, yes it is, but stick with us because we believe there are some crucial lessons people who work with the media can learn from last week's shock outcome, which saw a prime minister heralded as the “most popular since World War Two” lose a 25 per cent lead in opinion polls and end up leading a minority government.
Let's start by looking at the influence of the media
Newspaper editorial, columnists and now bloggers and tweeters had plenty of opinions to share on the election, some more palatable than others.
We live in a free press society and editors, writers and commentators share thoughts and opinions widely and with little censorship, if any.
Since the time of cave paintings, we have been expressing our thoughts to a wider audience and some have remained just as sophisticated.
But did it work? Back in 1992 when John Major won, Murdoch’s popular tabloid – still today the most purchased in this country – boasted “It Was The Sun Wot Won It”. Was it? Or just a poorer offering from Neil Kinnock? Well, that’s for another time.
However, few will deny that, in 2017, the most influential papers within the British press opposed Jeremy Corbyn.
But did these editorials and front page headlines prove that effective? The Tories were returned but without a majority and lost 13 seats and Labour increased its MPs by 30.
The veteran BBC broadcaster John Simpson tweeted the day after the election: “I suspect we have seen the end of the tabloids as the arbiters of UK politics. Sun, Mail and Express threw all they had into backing May and failed.”
I suspect we've seen the end of the tabloids as arbiters of UK politics. Sun, Mail & Express threw all they had into backing May, & failed.— John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) June 9, 2017
Is this the really the case or do they just need to change their approach? Something is changing, namely the communication platforms.
The campaign to influence/win over/manipulate has moved from tabloid to tablet.
Online and social media campaigns mobilised the younger voter and led to a yet to be verified 72 per cent turn out among that age group. Labour is claiming many backed them and this was a key factor in Corbyn’s success.
The data, fall out and analysis is still being gathered but it seems increasingly that online is where we now turn for opinion, influence and, if we are lucky, fact.
This is a trend which has been developing for some time and on our media training courses we have been training spokespeople for interviews with online journalists for some time.
On our media training courses we always encourage delegates to promote their key messages and stress the importance of keeping those message simple and avoiding jargon.
At journalism college we spoke of “Aunty Doreen” - a middle-aged, Middle England and middling voter. Would Aunty Doreen understand your policy, jargon, language? As trainers we talk about the “So What?” factor. Why should the public care? How do you make it clear and simple so that both Aunty Doreen and Brenda from Bristol are convinced and assured, not fed up and disengaged?
That said, oversimplifying it doesn’t work. “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable”, “coalition of chaos” and, again for political balance, “For the many, not the few”, all mean nothing without evidence to back it up.
It is just rhetoric and the British public is much more savvy than that. And the more that it was said, the more these empty mantras became more facile, frustrating and futile.
Sound bites remain important, but only if they are believable and genuine. And they should not be overused - after all, if we wanted a parrot we would go to the pet shop.
Whatever personality Theresa May had before the election was swiftly put aside to make way for slogans. And the more she was forced to try, the more uncomfortable it was to watch.
Discussions of girl/boy jobs or running through fields of wheat were never going to set a camping stove on fire, let alone a generation. Keeping political balance – should, as I write, another snap election prompt the reintroduction of the Representation of the People Act – it was the same with Gordon Brown.
An intelligent and committed politician, perhaps, but little obvious charisma and a large failure to connect with the public.
Both May and Brown may be utterly charming and witty (Ruth Davidson argues that the current PM has a very dry wit and we witnessed that with her comment of John Bercow “getting a landslide”) but what increasingly matters these days, rightly or wrongly, is the public image.
The vast majority of us will only “meet” politicians on the screen and that is how we make our judgements. In the first-ever US election TV debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, Kennedy agreed to the make-up makeover and looked like a matinee idol. Nixon did not and looked like a sweaty, pallid imposter. Kennedy won the election within an eyelash – the closest up to that point since 1916 - and it was argued that this TV performance was the turning point.
Corbyn’s “victory” has been put down to his change in image. While he will argue it was the Labour manifesto that was the “star of the campaign”, he has been credited with a more personable performance, despite the odd Woman’s Hour stumble.
Gone were the grumbling and dismissive tussles with the press and a more composed and good humoured Corbyn 2:0 was revealed to us. That said, he still didn’t win. Whether it was because many remained unconvinced by his image change or his politics, we may never know.
The key learning for spokespeople here is not to be afraid to let their personality come through in media interviews - it will make what they say more memorable and they will appear authentic.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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