Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
It’s not every day Andrew Bolt gives you an insight into how to communicate. But this week he’s given us two, and they are lessons worth learning.
Bolt (of News Ltd's Bolt Report) has been huffing and puffing this week about allegations of bias from Fairfax over the Newcastle Herald’s reporting of a union speech, and also taking the ABC to task over comments made by a panellist on Q&A.
I hate to admit it, but Mr Bolt is right. Both the pundits he lambasts did make a serious mistake. Although perhaps not the one he is leveraging.
Their real mistake is that they both played the conflict card.
When you do that you are almost guaranteed to attract media attention - but at a massive cost. Your message is lost.
Reporters seize on the drama and anger in your words, and in doing that they overlook the impact of what you are trying to communicate.
Take the reporting of the March in March protest in Newcastle last week.
The march was supposed to be a protest against the Abbott government but that message has been completely lost from the reporting. The main story on the march is the vitriolic attack by Union Official Gary Kennedy on Gina Rinehart and Alan Joyce.
Whatever point Kennedy was planning to make was drowned out by his comments that Rinehart is a ‘‘filthy animal’’ and that Qantas chief Alan Joyce should be ‘‘shot in the back of the head’’.
A little colour is a good thing, but this completely crosses the line. And Kennedy has ended up looking hysterical and violent rather than concerned for workers and social justice. He may also end up on a charge of Libel or even inciting violence.
Similarly, Indigenous academic Marcia Langton crossed the line during the last week's Q&A on ABC1. She effectively accused Bolt of Racism when she said “Nothing that (Bolt) … said was political … it was simply racial abuse".
So no matter what point Ms Langton was trying to communicate, the public take out is an accusation of racism, from which she later backed down*. And that leaves her looking like she is an hysterical extremist full of hot air rather than considered and valuable insights.
So how can you avoid conflict but still get your message through?
Keep it colourful but factual: find a word or a turn of phrase which cuts through – but make sure it supports your idea rather than overshadows it.
Do the Nanna test – if you wouldn’t want your Nanna to hear you say it because it ridicules, hurts or harms someone then it’s probably conflict and not strategic.
Apologise immediately – if something slips out in a print interview retract it, if it happens in a live broadcast apologise. Don’t leave it to be the quote which frames the story.