the message formula

The underlying formula of media training is a factor in undermining public confidence in politicians; with the electorate switching off, and seeking ‘straight-talking’ from any quarter.

The car crash interview when Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, was at LBC was an early moment of electoral excitement for the media.

Widely shared and ridiculed. Bennett apologised to the Party, and it was announced she would be undertaking some ‘media training’. The news was welcomed by those involved in media training.

Other Green representatives might have benefited from some of that training also.

However expensive or professional media training might be, it isn’t necessarily going to help when it is clear someone doesn’t have a grasp of the essentials necessary for the interview: in Natalie Bennett’s case, a grasp of her own Party’s policy beyond some prepared lines. Though it seems that not having a grasp of your own Party’s policy isn’t only a Green problem; as this Labour canvassing group has discovered, as did this Labour spokesman:

With social media such slip-ups are available to share and be commented on; amplified ad infinitum and archived. While online media interviews, audio or video, are most often analysed extensively by other media, in the background even a simple tweet can demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the basics:

An essential understanding of the framework within which your policy rests and from which the details flow is fairly fundamental before opening your mouth. The point of media training is to ensure an individual communicates ‘the message’ of XXX policy, often accompanied by some ‘key points’ of detail. Sometimes, however, training to focus on the message can be taken on board a bit to literally.

The media training formula for communicating ‘the message’ is fairly standard: take the question and, using ‘the message’, reframe the question to provide an answer using a variation of the message that best suits. Although the poster of this video is making a point on the “display of unrehearsed sincerity /cough” there is a wider issue at play.

This video of Ed Miliband has been watched almost 2 million times: people being able to see, and decide for themselves what the message is. And the message is that our politicians are simply not being honest; not being straight with the public from which they expect a vote. This is true whether repeatedly communicating the one message, or simply not answering the question.

This video helpfully posted by LabourList. About that mote in the eye…

Of course, to learn how to present policy and handle yourself in a media environment is entirely reasonable for politicians, professionals representing business interests, or anyone else wanting who might have occasion to speak to the media whether planned or not. No-one wants to look stupid, or unprofessional. But to expect the public to adsorb what you say, at face value, might be a stretch in today’s linked-up and information accessible world. Any view communicated through the media is easily, and in the speed of a tweet, challenged and ‘corrected’ by others. For those people not emotionally engaged with your point of view, that challenge and correction is enough to sway, sow doubt and change how others process your message.

Which is why formulaic media training is a contributing factor in political disengagement by increasing numbers of the electorate, and in the rise of populists (left and right) with their the apparently uncomplicated and unsophisticated messages. For despite Green hiccups and UKIP inconsistencies, their apparent candour/apologies and straight-talking in the first instance to their core constituencies brings respect and votes. OK, probably not enough marginal votes to hold a large number of parliamentary seats at this General Election, but keep an eye on the local elections as the results roll in on the 7th and 8th May.

The electorate (including those who no longer vote) has become tired of soundbites and misdirections, on-message mantras and repetition of phrases, and policy announcements that sound good but on balance seems to be more of the same old same old. Media training has dehumanised the process of communication to a point where the politician, businessman, and especially the PR spokesperson, is simply no longer believed.

In the present cat and mouse game of the media endeavouring to find a way through the message wall, everything is focused on the chase: to gain a single soundbite to be rolled across the next 24 hour news channels, media devouring media, magnifying and elaborating on a departure (however small) from what is perceived to be ‘the line’, distancing with each repetition from any meaningful policy debate.

Ironically, it is often media cats who earn great sums of money training the mice, to improve on how to play the game.

Meanwhile, the voters continue to seek a message in which to believe. While populists may said to be romantics and their policies ridiculed as unrealistic (of course the big parties would say that, wouldn’t they), underlying those people and policies are honestly held views of the world. Right or wrong, for now, they’re the alternative; “on message” or not.

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