The Handkerchief Ghost

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It is not common enough; the Chief Executive of a company apologises, and apologises in a way that seems genuine. Nowadays, how often does this happen in the corporate and political worlds? Aggressive business leaders, and overly-confident politicians appear to be the common currency. So, here it is again, the Uber CEO apology, . Aside from the important debate over Uber’s ways of operating, from a crisis communications perspective this is effective. It’s about admitting fault and taking responsibility. These seem to be major hurdles for corporates amid a crisis. Ok, so it’s not clear what exactly the CEO is apologising for, but at least it is a sign of some humility and a good start as Uber unfurls its crisis communication plan.

Tackling rumours after Hurricane Irma

Predictably, sadly, the ‘rumour mill’ in the wake of Hurricane Irma is working at full speed. The problem of rumours is recognised by the US government, hence their helpful website. It’s a big challenge now for aid agencies and governments to ensure people receive correct information and information that will shape lives for the better, especially as communities work out how to recover from Hurricane Irma.

Given the devastation to so many lives and livelihoods caused by Hurricane Irma, the last thing that people need is wrong information. Quality information transforms how people are able to move on and rebuild their lives.  However, it is a big task to counter the swirling information flows on the web; information flows that can too often be misleading. It is a massive issue on the web and social media; too many people serving up incorrect information and too many people unable to sift through what they see and read and then double or triple source the authenticity of so-called facts. We are hearing this so often. It’s a recurring theme in political debate. The costs of spreading wrong information can be immense. We may never have thought it some years ago, but the need for everyone to be ‘media literate’ is so important. We all build our information universe online. People need to know how to do this. Too many do not. Too many feed on rumour and falsifications. They feed on creating their ‘Daily Me’, reading sources they tend to agree with rather than seeking diversity and fact-checking, double or triple-sourcing from authentic places, what’s put to them. Courses in media literacy have real practical value.

Hurricane challenges emergency aid

The appalling devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma poses stern tests for the emergency aid and development sector. Will emergency organisations, many of whom say they aid recovery and rebuilding after natural disasters, be able to meet the likely demand? Too many people’s lives and livelihoods have been torn apart by this immense hurricane. The need for a swift recovery once Irma has passed is, of course, paramount.

Challenges and questions are already emerging. Owing to the proximity of the Caribbean to the US, as well as Florida now bearing the brunt of the hurricane, we can anticipate forensic media examination of how well emergency and recovery organisations perform. It’s always a challenge for such organisations to listen to what communities say, to deliver to scale, speedily, for rebuilding/reconstruction and to fend off the predictable complaints that too little help arrived and it arrived too late. Emergency and recovery/rebuilding organisations, usually in the development sector although never underestimate the importance of the military to make things happen, can expect stories in weeks and months to come when the media ‘truth-check’ what was promised and what assistance has actually been delivered. Now, we pray for the safety and well-being of everyone affected by this massive hurricane. More tough challenges posed by Hurricane Irma await.

Showcase return on investments

It’s about demonstrating a return on investments. Nowadays, everyone is potentially a journalist. Mobile phones enable us to film what’s happening before us and record decent sound (if you know what you’re doing). This is a blessing and a curse. For the development sector, it’s terrific. It means showing your results, of ‘aid in action’, improving lives of the more vulnerable has never been easier. The costs of gathering multimedia content have been drastically reduced. This is especially helpful for smaller non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who sometimes believe it is harder for them to cut through when they are competing in a crowded campaigning space alongside much larger organisations. It all means smaller NGOs can more easily punch above their weight, especially if their programmes are community-focussed, which is not always the case for larger organisations, including the UN sector. So, showcase results of ‘aid in action’, of when aid is making an impact and improving the lives of the more vulnerable. Interestingly, more and more journalists in diverse media markets are calling for exactly this; proof of aid working. No longer are they wowed by large donations in the development sector. The first question is often: “Can you take me to a community where I can interview those who are benefitting from these large donations?”.  It’s all about demonstrating a return on investments.

The challenge posed by data

The use of figures, or data, in media interviews and public speaking is increasingly contentious. The first point, of course, is that any data referred to must be accurate. This, in itself, has become a hot topic. Data can be misused. Then, once we know a piece of data is accurate there is the need to make sure your data makes sense, or resonates, with your target public(s). Too, too often, data is banded around in a way that is meaningless. Simply quoting million or billions of something doesn’t actually mean much to most people. You have to make sure your figures hit home. How do you do this? Recent thinking is providing us with new ways of offering up key data. The need to know how to do this is of premium importance. This became abundantly clear in our most recent media training course with public health advocates drawn from across the world. How often do you use data and how do you serve up data? Big questions now being answered.

Muscle memory

It was fascinating to analyse a #MelindaGates interview on BBC Radio with public health advocates on our  recent ’20secondsmedia’ media training & public speaking course in Amsterdam. Among the many elements that became abundantly clear in her performance was the power of muscle memory. She had, of course, worked hard overtime to remember key messages. Hence, during a challenging series of exchanges with the interviewer,  who tried on many occasions to induce her to criticise D Trump and the Pope, she never wavered. She kept bridging back into her key messages and hammered them home. It was a performance that drew heavily on instinct; those key messages about child mortality absorbed in her muscle memory. It shows that effective, polished public speaking, like high-level musical and sports performance, is the work of many years of hard work. You drill, and drill, techniques and allow them to seep into the memory. Even if your mind goes blank, the muscle memory will rarely let you down.

When news gets harder to report

Away from the oxygen, heat and, sadly, fluff of many news agendas has been the unfolding narrative of Iraqi-government forces retaking the key city of Mosul. Mosul had fallen to IS in 2014 and has now been retaken, with the help of US-coalition forces. Brutal, chilling information emerging about conditions inside Mosul in last three years. Good to read excellent journalism in the London Review of Books by Patrick Cockburn, Here’s a BBC background piece,


Increasingly curious communication methods of UK PM

Well, the public communication methods of the UK Conservative Party are getting odder and odder. Why did the UK Prime Minister not meet residents and community volunteers – she did meet fire chiefs/police – following the appalling fire disaster at Grenfell Tower, in London? Doesn’t good leadership entail empathy and listening? I note her omission is an issue now rising up the news agenda; the leader of the UK Labour Party did meet Grenfell Tower survivors and local residents. Needless to say, the UK PM’s shocking omission is an immense communication error. More importantly, didn’t she see the need to show solidarity with the residents, listen and learn?

Similarities between music and politics

For some time, I’ve pondered how the art of politics has much to learn from art forms such as music. Never has this been more so than what confronts us in the current UK political domain. I stress that I write this from a stance of being as impartial as I can be about the UK political parties. My interest is in their varying communication methods. This brings me back to the communication approach of the UK’s Conservative Party. It remains a curious affair. Quick random thoughts:

a) a successful external relations/communication strategy requires a compelling ‘vibe’ or atmosphere. It needs to feel good. Check out any Miles Davis recording from the 1950s and 1960s. The ‘Kind of Blue’ album is a classic. Each track has a great vibe. This means creating a rhythmic or harmonic hook, an atmosphere. Even if you don’t know what’s going on you want to keep listening. Switching to politics, what kind of communication atmosphere does the current UK Conservative Party create? It is possibly fair to say it lacks the positive ‘vibe’ of the Labour Party (whether Labour’s spending plans add up is another matter). The Conservative Party exudes an atmosphere of relative silence, it points up potential storm clouds and speaks of threats that require managing. This may be all well and good. It may be accurate, but you need light as well as shade. Where’s the feel good vibe?

b) great musical creativity is drawn from long-held convictions, musical beliefs, great techniques; if you like, it stems from a musical philosophy. Listen to Duke Ellington, J.S. Bach or John Coltrane…..These qualities enabled these wonderful musicians to create their own highly-individual maps with routes to levels of great creativity. I raise the question of what are the long-held convictions, political beliefs of the current senior figures in the Conservative Party? The art of politics means deeply-held beliefs come in handy, e.g. Margaret Thatcher and the thoughts of Milton Friedman, Clement Attlee’s socialism. Whether you agree with him or not, Jeremy Corbyn has long held clear political beliefs. His political convictions are clear. He may even subscribe to a political philosophy. By contrast, what are the political convictions of the current leadership of the Conservative Party? Great works of music, creativity, are drawn from deeply-held convictions, beliefs. Political convictions may form the make-up of the new UK Government – if so it would be helpful for me, perhaps others, to know what they are? More is needed than slogans such as ‘strong and stable…’.



Curious communication methods of UK Conservative Party

I try hard to view the UK election through  a prism of neutrality when looking at communication methods employed by major political parties. Their differing approaches are of interest. From this stance it has to be said the current UK Conservative Party leadership is using unorthodox and possibly counter-productive techniques. A few brief, slightly random but important, observations/questions. What was their campaign social media plan? Why is there no spokesperson this morning for the major news programmes? This is probably unprecedented in the modern era. It means their political opponents & others are setting the agenda. Even the former Chancellor George Osborne’s Evening Standard has said: “We now have a minority Conservative government that is in office but not in power. Its majority depends on the caprice of 10 Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland.”. Ouch. Moreover, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – it is a fact that he did not win the election – has cleverly positioned himself as the election victor through well-crafted, instant public statements on multiple communication platforms. By default, by not having clear communication lines, and spokespeople instantly available for the public domain, promoting their political vision, the Conservative leadership will now be on the back-foot in its public statements, responding to the narratives of others. (Are they seeing their roles as political policemen, responding to the political views of others/only keeping political developments in check?) All this leaves an information vacuum. It raises the question of whether they can ever recover from a perception (rightly or wrongly) of lacking political vision, grasp of forward-thinking political details, and openness to public discussion & listening. These have become, through their own communication methods, bigger and wider challenges for them.