Morrison fails PR 101 test

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During my Christmas and New Year break I watched with horror as the devastation of the bush fires unfurled. I was also professionally dismayed at the Morrison sideshow that was running at the same time.

There are a few common sense rules in public relations which our Prime Minister ignored, attracting avoidable general criticism instead of reinforcing his position as a compassionate leader.

These PR truisms include:

Don’t mislead if the facts will be discovered

For Mr Morrison’s staff to deny he was holidaying in Hawaii was just plain dumb. Was it on the instructions of the Prime Minister, or the act of a staffer in the Canberra Bubble? The media was bound to find out he was out of the country on holiday. Every leader, and politicians in particular, should be aware by now that it’s always the cover-up that will get you. And it did.

Have relevant messages 

The TV coverage of Mr Morrison seemingly wandering around fire fighters and victims of the fires without much purpose except to be photographed, and shaking hands with people who were not really interested, was particularly unedifying. And it came back to bite him with heckling and individual abuse.

Good communication is not only knowing the messages you want to deliver (and Mr Morrison didn’t even seem to get this right) but knowing what people want so that they listen to you and are satisfied. “What are you going to do for us?” is what people wanted to know. Mr Morrison should have been making some clear, positive, announcements of what the government will do. He finally got there but it took too long, and in the meantime looked as if he was prevaricating.

Have a communication timetable

This was another source of self-inflicted injury for the Prime Minister. Fire chiefs were critical when they learned about initiatives from the media rather than being given an official heads-up. With any announcement (and at the height of the fire, any government initiative was of major interest) the need for a timeline of who must be told, and when, is self-evident.

 Self-aggrandisement doesn’t work

The video clip featuring the Prime Minister was a mistake. It seemed to be all about him rather than the people affected. Preachy self-justification might work for Mr Trump in the USA but not so much in Australia, and it came across as a badly-thought through marketing activity for Mr Morrison and his party.

Listen to your advisers, and if they aren’t up to it, change them

In a communication crisis, it is always difficult to know whether missteps are because a spokesperson simply thinks they know better and ignores the advice of their experts, or whether the advisers are not up to the job. 

Every public relations adviser has experienced a principal who thinks they know better. With his marketing background and “miracle” win at the last election, Mr Morrison could well think he can do no wrong and may have well overruled others’ advice. If so, let’s hope he’s learned his lesson. On the other hand, if he wasn’t warned of the risks in some of the approaches he was taking, or was given inappropriate advice, is it time for new advisers?

Originally posted to LinkedIn by Claudia Pritchitt