By Sharon Leifer, Broadcast Specialist, Clarity Solutions
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is in danger of being summed up by a Katy Perry hit this week.
You know the lyrics… ‘You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down…’
She announced last Saturday that the daily media conferences would cease from Monday and be replaced by a daily release of figures, except when she had something to tell people. On Monday, the Premier ended up fronting the press conference she said she would no longer be hosting. It was an embarrassing backflip and no amount of ‘I always said I was going to host press conferences when I had something I wanted to say’ was going to cover the misstep.
Gladys has become the face of NSW’s pandemic response. Almost every day for months, she has fronted these press conferences and taken it on the chin from the media. Love her or loathe her, showing up so consistently and taking it on the chin has helped her look like a leader. Being willing to respond to media questions, publicly and live on air, has helped her demonstrate a willingness to be accountable.
Open communication is a key ingredient in crisis management because it helps build confidence and helps you steer the narrative.
Abandoning your daily press conferences mid crisis, when there are legitimate ongoing questions, is problematic for a host or reasons.
Firstly, you lose some of the hard-won standing you have built up in the community. People forget quickly. The danger is the questions you don’t respond to will become the headlines.
Secondly, effectively telling the media that you have better things to do, is never going to be well received by, well, the media. They are not going to take it kindly. It raises questions about public accountability and the media are not going to be satisfied with an offer to only hold media conferences when you’ve got something you want to say. Whether it was intended or not, this smacks of running away from difficult questions, rather than demonstrating leadership by fronting the mic.
Thirdly, it leaves a vacuum, and there will be plenty of people willing to fill it. News programs, websites and newspapers still have airtime and pages to fill. It’s important in crisis communications to ask yourself: ‘If it’s not our spokesperson being featured, whose will it be? Are we happy to hand the spotlight over to them?’ Note that NSW opposition leader Chris Minns claimed that Gladys’s backflip on Monday was prompted by his announcement that he’d host daily 11am press conferences instead.
These considerations are the fundamentals of crisis communication. While regular and ongoing communication may be hard, the consequences of not doing it may be worse. A point not lost on Premier Berejiklian and her team this week…
Cue music…’She’s in then she’s out, she’s out then she's back…'
If your team would benefit from a presentation on best practice in being the public face of a crisis, you can email me here for some options.
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