Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Cardinal George Pell’s insane ‘Truck Driver’ analogy dominated media in Australia and throughout Asia this week, trashing his brand in the process.
Cardinal Pell told the child abuse Royal Commission that the Catholic Church was no more legally responsible for priests who abuse children than a trucking company that employs a driver who molests women. Gasp.
It’s a very sensitive issue, but if we can set that aside and look only at his communication there are two really clear lessons.
First up, analogies are incredibly powerful – they cut through and clarify – but you have to get them right.
And secondly, you can’t justify or try to rationalise your behaviour when you are dealing with outrage.
The only thing you can do is give a genuine apology, and keep apologising.
In case you missed it, here’s Pell’s statement to the Child Abuse Royal Commission. It’s pompous and long winded but he gets to the point at about 1:20. Or you can read the media reaction here.
Analogies work in media. They explain and connect ideas which are challenging because they map new information to an existing concept. But like any tool they have to be used strategically.
There are gaps in Pell’s logic you could drive a truck through and it’s so poorly thought out it had to provoke outrage.
And provoke it did – not just from victims and the public, but even the Truck Driver’s Association understandably took offence.
I have a real problem with Pell’s delivery as well. He has had a complete empathy bypass.
In a crisis we can all tell when someone is not genuine and that tends to inflame the situation. If your spokesperson can’t speak from their heart, chances are they will only make matters worse.
How can you avoid Pell’s cardinal sins of communication?
1. Use analogies but make them strategic.
2. If you’ve caused offence apologise and keep apologising.
3. Don’t use logic in a crisis, respond to emotion with emotion.