23 Apr 2015

Talking politics… or not

Niall Moran  – Account Executive at Spreckley

As we count down to the election to end all elections, “the most important for a generation”, as is customary during the year of the ballot the media frenzy is bubbling over. Everyone from the enthused A-level student to a FTSE 100 CEO has a view. Not only is this the first under the new fixed term system of parliaments but, as polls and popular opinion suggest, the outcome is wide open.

The now infamous “car crash interview” from Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has brought media interviews into focus now more than ever. So as communications professionals how do we advise clients on how to approach interviews with the commentariat? Do we toe the line and nod to the age old don’t discuss politics or religion or do we embrace the rush on political deliberation and air our views openly?

When clients get in front of journalists it is highly likely that they may flavour the interview with a question on the election to keep it topical and obtain an industry view. They may be met with questions such as, “What way would the re-election of the Conservative party in the forthcoming vote affect your business or your sector?”, “Which parties’ policies would best serve your industry?” Or “Labour is advocating a change in A, B and C – would this be the correct approach for your industry?”

But how can these questions be answered without offending a large proportion of the masses and moreover the target market of the interviewee? The reality is that it’s difficult. Politics affects every member of society and evokes a myriad of attitudes and perspectives and opinions are often strongly held. Airing controversial views or declaring your hand may actually offend more people than you connect with and may shift the focus of the interview to some abstract view on the health service because it is a good story rather than the issues you sought out to champion or discuss.

Steering clear of the issue may be one option and it is possible to do this with a polite but firm response will such as “That’s an exciting question but I’m not a politician so it wouldn’t be my place to say,” However it is possible to turn this on its head and reframe some of these loaded questions to discuss the issues you came to discuss and to champion a cause for the industry. A prudent approach would be to get a position clear in your head and wrap up some well-thought-out messaging in a strong answer that will refocus the interview. It is totally acceptable to add a phrase such as “What I’d say to whoever wins the election is that our industry needs…” or “Regardless of who is sitting in Downing St after the election, what we’re telling our clients is…” this will provide a bridge away from this possibly damaging territory back to issues that clients came to discuss and keep controversial views to late night disagreements with friends and out of the public eye.

“It is always a risk to speak to the press: they might report what you say” 

Hubert H. Humphrey: Former Vice President of the United States