I’ll inevitably be adding Treasury Minister Chloe Smith’s recent car-crash interview on Newsnight to the ‘clips of doom’ that I use in my regular media training sessions. But in this case, it was not so much the message, but the choice (by the Treasury) of Ms Smith as the spokesperson that should be most questioned. As you are probably aware, Ms Smith had to defend the umpteenth policy U-Turn since the Budget a few months ago, and on the touchy subject of petrol tax.
One of the first calls in any crisis or issues situation (and preferably sorted before the event) is to choose the spokesperson. The best messages in the world (and the Treasury did not even have the benefit of those) will unravel in seconds if the spokesperson is not right for the job and not trained in key message delivery.
She was put up because her boss, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP, reportedly went awol, letting his junior take the flak for his own policy reversal. This has given the story more legs than it would ordinarily have had. It resonates badly with viewers, because their sensibility will be that the person who takes a big political decision should also be the one held responsible for their actions – even if there is still a voyeuristic curiosity at watching the result numerous times on Youtube.
It is another twist in the fortunes of the Coalition who seem to be finding it hard to maintain the focus and credibility that characterised their time in office up until the Budget. As I know from a previous gig working in the Chief Whip’s Downing Street office, whatever the policy and whatever the key message, Government needs to lead from the top. For politicos like me, you know there is something up in Government when the generals are nowhere to be seen when Jeremy Paxman begins his advance up the trenches. Could Smith have done better? Sure, if she had been effectively trained and was more experienced, but she was not and the Government have taken the unavoidable hit.
This experience from the front line of politics should be a reminder to all involved in PR and corporate reputation to have a media training, crisis and spokesperson plan to hand.
For information on media training at FH, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org