May must find balance between steel and compassion in Nice tragedy response

Theresa May could find that communicating her compassion is a "weak spot", and the new PM must be prepared for her response to a terrorist attack in the south of France last night to be scrutinised tightly, comms experts have argued.

After the attack in Nice late on Thursday night that has left dozens dead, new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was quick to tweet a message of sympathy, while May's own note, posted via Facebook, was published around noon UK time.

In it, May said she was "shocked and saddened" by the attack, but also laid out practical steps for how the UK would react and work with France to prevent future atrocities.

Gill Morris, chief executive of DevoConnect, said May had a tendency to "come across as a bit of a cold fish", saying: "I think while she has integrity and dignity, in terms of how she actually demonstrates compassion and sincerity at a time of tragedy is going to be perhaps a weak spot for her."

Morris went on to say: "There will be more tragic situations to come, not just in France, so it’ll be about how to show steeliness on the international stage but also that she wants to put the people of Britain first.

She said: "I don’t think I can ever remember Theresa May smiling until this week, so that nice side of her has to come to the fore... she’ll need to think more about how she’s coming across and will be getting advice, which is maybe why she’s been smiling a bit more."

Matt Carter, former UK chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, told PRWeek: "In these moments, people want someone who can express in words the public's own feelings and emotions.

"This is a key first moment for the new Prime Minister. She will be accustomed to responding to tragic events, having served at the Home Office for so long, but nevertheless what she says will also be scrutinised for any signs of a change of policy or approach."

PRWeek asked Twitter followers whether May's statement had struck the right tone. Labour MP turned public affairs professional Andy Sawford said he thought it had.

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.