There are two top teams when it comes to media training. Both teams are brilliant at what they do. One is Bill Ralston his missus Janet Wilson, the other team is Brian Edwards and his missus Judy Callingham. I rate both teams as equals, both are are very successful. The reason for their success is the ability to remove the politics from a situation or issue and to look at the issue or challenge dispassionately and almost mathematically or scientifically.
It is why I respect both Brian and Billy.
So when Brian Edwards says that John Campbell got schooled by John Key it pays to listen. Only a silly person would scoff and laugh it all off as a lucky break and a result of media training. I mean think about that for a moment…Russell Brown, amongst others has suggested that a quick once over lightly media training session allowed John Key to destroy someone who has had constant media training day in day out on his own show…that that same media training allowed John Key to foot it with John campbell on and equal footing and then miraculously land a couple of killer punches against the general thrust of the fight?
It’s bullshit. A crude term I know, and certainly my good friend Brian Edwards wouldn’t be pleased with such coarse language, but bullshit is what that excuse is and bullshit is what it must be called. Brian Edwards agrees…except he uses much finer words to explain.
But first an explanation as to what a TV interview can deliver in the hands of skilled operator.
In the political arena, television provides incontrovertible evidence of the truth of the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words. Its ultimate power lies in the close-up. In this respect I like to quote the doyen of British television interviewers, the late-lamented Sir Robin Day:
“When a TV interviewer questions a politician, this is one of the rare occasions, perhaps the only occasion outside Parliament, when a politician’s performance cannot be completely manipulated or packaged or artificially hyped.
“The image-maker can advise on how to sit, or what hairstyle to have, or on voice quality. But once the interview has started, the politician is on his or her own….
“Unlike a politician’s platform speech, or a politician’s article, or a politician’s TV address, an interview on television is one public act which is not in the hands of the advertising men, the pollsters and propagandists, the image-makers, the public relations experts or the marketing men….
“In a TV interview, provided there is time for probing cross-examination, the politician cannot be wholly shielded against the unexpected. The politician’s own brain is seen to operate. His or her real personality tends to burst out. Truth is liable to raise its lovely head.” Read more »
John Drinnan raises questions over the use of PR people as commentators. I think he is a little confused in calling Matthew Hooton a journalist…he isn’t, he is a commentator…a paid mouthpiece, rent an opinion, just as I am or anyone else that is a talking head on radio or TV shows where we offer up our opinions. In that respect Drinnan misses the point, though the conflict angle is relevant.
Never mind journalists doing PR stories, what about PR doing journalism?
There’s Matthew Hooton, a founder and director of the PR consultancy Exceltium, who is also a columnist for the National Business Review, as well as being the right-wing voice of right versus left commentary on National Radio.
And there is Michelle Boag, the former National Party president who appears in commentary spots while being a partner in a high-profile PR agency.
The Nation media commentator and Listener columnist Bill Ralston is a PR man while his leftish offsider Brian Edwards is just a step short of PR, providing media training, often an adjunct to the PR consultancy.
Meanwhile, the company that makes The Nation, Front Page, also works on internal communication for the country’s biggest company, Fonterra. Special steps are taken to ensure there is no conflict of interest.
Radio New Zealand frequently turns to public relations people for its afternoon panel with Mora.
There have been no direct allegations of PR people giving quiet plugs to their clients. But isn’t it courting problems when you hire people for journalism, whose profession is to win promotion and media coverage for their clients.
Hooton insists that he always declares any conflict of interest when he is making a commentary and there is no reason to doubt him.
Over at Radio New Zealand National, the head of features, John Howson, says the potential for conflicts of interest is taken very seriously and all guests on the panel, including PR people, are required to declare any commercial relationships and, apart from the segments when panelists are asked, ” What is is on your mind?” the topics are steered by Mora and the producers.
Brian Edwards is brutal on David Shearer’s gagging of David Cunliffe. Perhaps he is still mad at getting the axe for media training…well that is what Labour MPs are quietly whispering around the beltway if anyone asks them why Brian has gone feral.
Anyway, ‘the top team’ didn’t like Cunliffe’s brilliant speech and he was apparently bawled out by Shearer and others and told the speech was’ naive and stupid.’ That tends to be the price you pay for idealism. And, according to the extremely well informed Duncan Garner, the price may be high for Cunliffe who has been ‘put in his place, somewhere down the bottom of the pecking order’.
This is so utterly stupid that it beggars belief. Cunliffe is not only intellectually brilliant, he is by far Labour’s most accomplished debater in the House and on television and radio. No-one in the Labour Party can hold a candle to him as a media spokesperson. Stammering and stuttering seem to be the main criteria for that at present.
Brian Edwards writes an interesting post about the wisdom of commentary, and blows his own trumpet (justifiably). But his comment on the un-trainability of David Shearer is interesting.
Brian is a considered commentator, for him to opine so publicly shows that he (and Helen Clark) are over David Shearer:
This morning my co-commentator on The Nation and fellow media trainer Bill Ralston joked about Shearer, ‘He should have had some media training.’ But it was a joke. Media training would have made not an iota of difference to Shearer’s fortunes. He would have proved untrainable.
That sounds harsh, but it is not intended to be. Shearer is simply miscast as the leader of a political party in opposition. To change his image, he would have to change his personality and that, in human terms, could only be a change for the worse. Shearer is genetically challenged as a Leader of the Opposition. The killer instinct and the showbiz gene are both missing. He can be reasonable but he can’t project.
Media training is a waste of time for such politicians. Worse, it’s transparent, an ineffective cover-up job that listeners and viewers can recognise and see through. And that is damaging.
Bill Rowling, whom I mentioned in the earlier blog, was a strong personality who looked weak on television. Attempts to make him more forceful made him look like a weak man trying to appear forceful.
A similar fate was met by the rather wooden Geoffrey Palmer, who was Prime Minister for a year and who, I’m told, received media advice from some Australian gurus in the art. The advice was apparently to be physically more animated and smile more. The effect, however, was to make him look remarkably like the American Eagle on The Muppets.
Media trainers need first and foremost to be skilled diagnosticians. A wrong diagnosis, followed by inappropriate treatment can be fatal to the patient’s prospects of survival. Sometimes, as in the case of David Shearer, it is kindest to admit that there is no cure and wish them a happy life – perhaps doing something else.