They may have just spent the last seven weeks persuading us to keep them in work, but seriously, who’d be a politician? Ok, the pay’s not bad and there’s a certain kudos to it, but having to be constantly on your game, particularly at election time when it seems everyone is out to wrongfoot you, must be a drag.
2017 has been the campaign of the gaffe. Rarely has a day passed without someone putting their size tens or fives in it; several times a day in the case of the worst offenders.
From u-turns to backtracking, evading the question, dodging the debate or just getting words mangled, there’s been plenty to raise a titter or eyebrow depending on your outlook.
While Diane Abbott set the bar with her fumbling, stumbling performance on police funding numbers, plenty of others have botched it too.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley did herself no favours by refusing to answer questions on police cuts while being quizzed by Piers Morgan. Her colleague Michael Fallon probably wishes he’d refused to answer questions when he ended up sticking the boot into his own Boris Johnson rather than his intended victim Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour leader himself came a cropper, frantically tapping into his iPad looking for answers as he was grilled on the numbers surrounding childcare pledges.
The list goes on. And it’s all the more surprising given that all of those mentioned are senior politicians, not rookies, crumbling in the glare of the media spotlight.
All must have undergone media training – or how to go into unarmed combat with a journalist – and all seem to have forgotten some of the basics.
Number one for me would be, don’t avoid the question – particularly if the interview is live, it’s a reasonable question and you get asked it seven times in a row. It makes you look shifty, arrogant or – as some called Bradley – a ‘pre-programmed robot’.
There are plenty of ways to answer a question while moving on to make the points you want in an interview. Avoiding the question puts you on the back foot, answering and moving on puts you back in control.
Secondly, know your message and stick to it. If you’re the front bench spokesman on a subject and your first appointment of the day is a light toasting with John Humphrys in front of an audience of millions, know your brief and do your homework.
If you’re going to mention figures, do they add up? Mumbling and crumbling is not going to give off the air of certainty and confidence you want to portray.
Do not, repeat, do not, end up fumbling around in the bottom of your handbag searching for clues like someone who’s lost their money off coupons at the supermarket checkout (Emily Thornberry).
It’s no wonder given these displays that businesses and other organisations are sometimes wary about working with the media.
It can be a positive, mutually beneficial experience. But like any other aspect of business there’s some skill involved and it takes time and preparation. You might not have to face an Andrew Neil glare but if you don’t know your message or can’t remember your training, chances are you’ll come a cropper.
(*) I’ll be building on these themes and pointing out more pitfalls to avoid at a media relations day organised with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce on Friday June 23. Details at buff.ly/2qQs4rM