Passing the buck: A new national sport
Let's face it. There have been several, shall we say, memorably 'flawed' interviews since the president of the country was interviewed for an hour in studio on a leading talk radio station. But fortunately, not all the interviews were uncomfortably live on air.
10 Aug 2012 06:00
Since this interview, there have been those individuals who have left their indelible if rather questionable mark across news reports in the print media by giving way to the inevitable blame game, or what could now be termed a new national sport: The Passing of the Buck.
In fact, the current education crisis in Limpopo would no doubt take the Olympic gold.
Whether it is government performance, the medical parole of former police chief Jackie Selebi, the youth wage subsidy, the Limpopo textbooks fiasco, service delivery backlogs, corruption, or other debacles on the national agenda, what has been patently clear is the lack of strategic thinking and tactical planning around key messaging.
What questionably appointed spokespeople either don't realise - or presumably couldn't care less about - is that the rash of headlines and news stories does one thing and one thing only in the minds of the public: it wrecks all vestiges of credibility.
And while some remarkably salient points may be made in the various interviews, rehearsing key messages in front of a mirror or your long-suffering wife simply just doesn't cut it. The squawking utterances Jimmy the parrot makes may work in your living room, but they don't work in the glare of the public spotlight.
By the way, neither does repeating a negative sentiment put to you by a reporter. All this does is to entrench the negativity in the minds of your target audience, while at the same time, pays homage to dysfunctionality and ineptitude. Believe it or not, connecting with the most negative of issues by putting a positive spin on them can still be counted as brilliant branding.
So what are the fundamental rules of Media Engagement apart from never to picking up on a negative theme and developing on it?
Just winging it can work - but only if you are possessed with irrefutable media savvy. If you aren't, don't even entertain the thought of venturing into the lion's den without knowing what it is that you want to get out there. Waffle or mere platitude will result in you being eaten alive.
Being on top of things is another very basic rule of engagement. Not having the facts on tap and getting caught with your proverbial pants down will do nothing to advance your cause. Your job as a spokesperson is to provide clear and decisive intelligence so that you can at least appear to be in control of the situation.
Another worthwhile tip is to steer clear of complex organisational jargon. Policy and procedure and meetings about meetings mean nothing to an adversarial reporter, and very little to a public that needs answers. Be crisp, concise and coherent.
And when you've answered the question, shut the hell up. If a journalist wants more information, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will ask for it.