One of Australia’s more successful political figures, former Queensland state premier Peter Beattie, was quoted recently talking about the pressures posed by the 24/7 news cycle on people in public life.
“They are constantly on beck and call, and frankly I don’t care how smart anyone is, one day you will make a mistake,” he said. And when that happens, the mistake is publicly repeated again and again.
“Boo-hoo”, you might think. If you’re a politician, media scrutiny comes with the territory.
But hold on a moment. If media interviews are that difficult for a seasoned professional how hard must it be for those other spokespeople – the CEOs, GMs and corporate affairs managers – who face the media infrequently, perhaps only when there is a difficult issue that’s stirred public interest?
It’s the banana peel effect. A trip or slip-up made in an unguarded moment will always be more newsworthy than the media release already in a journalist’s hands.
Sometimes it’s the thrill of the ‘gotcha’, as happens when world leaders are (all too often) caught chatting near a ‘hot’ mike at a G7 summit.
While there’s no magic bullet for handling the media’s banana peel, there are ways to help avoid a misstep. Honesty and authenticity are a given, but there’s more to it than that.
For all the new rules of social media, there are some old rules that still apply: having a well-prepared message and a disciplined focus, and giving proper attention to your audiences’ real concerns are as important now in the age of digital communications as they have ever been.