Friday Drop: Bad week for Communications Workers Union deputy general secretary Dave Ward

What's the best way to make a statement to the press?

Ward: justifying strike action
Ward: justifying strike action

Take a look at this from Dave Ward of the Communication Workers Union, announcing probably strike action.

Ward's uncompromising stance and open necked shirt sends signals to the uncommitted audience before he starts. This is after all what the stereotype militant trade unionist is supposed to look like isn't it?!

He hops from one foot to the other as he tries to sell his union's position to what he knows to be a sceptical public.

Because he wants public support, he tries to sound reasonable, highlighting how this is not wanted by the union and that he understands customers' concerns.

But he fails to keep to one easily understood message and if he wants to persuade the viewer, the language is all wrong:

‘Change has to protect as many jobs as possible' (why?); ‘Royal Mail is running the company down and managing the decline of Royal Mail' (seems unlikely!); ‘If we don't make a stand now then you will see postal services destroyed in this country forever' (ridiculous).

But there is a better way. Listen to Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union talking about opposing pay freezes in the public sector. (go to 0735 news item and forward to 2.20) Softly spoken and measured, his reasonableness comes across to the listener and he offers plenty of compelling supporting evidence. You would never know he was a former member of Socialist Organiser.

Key lessons:

Although internal audiences will see also them, public statements are aimed at the public. Use other channels to communicate with your other stakeholders.

With such statements, keep your message simple and stick to one key message. And, as a rule, the British public does not like extremes so steer clear of unrealistic rhetoric.


Good week for Stephens Finer Innocent media lawyer Mark Stephens

Well, we had to pick on the lawyers eventually. It's time to look at how to come out on top if you are taking part in a TV panel discussion.

So to Tuesday's Newsnight. First up, Mark Stephens. He is - in the nicest way - a media tart. He is everywhere because he is a professional and smooth media interviewee who gives great quote. He's up against highly successful media lawyer, Matthew Nicklin, discussing freedom of expression. A bit of a case of two bald men fighting over a comb, but watch the clip. Who do you think won?

Stephens, probably. He dominates from the start. He is passionate, he uses vivid examples, he interrupts Nicklin (who allows him to), he has a clear key message, he makes the audience feel as contemptuous of his opponent as he is (but he always justifies it with supporting evidence) and he always refers to him as ‘Mr Nicklin' while Nicklin always says ‘Mark' (trying to sound reasonable it actually makes him seem more submissive). Stephens stomps all over him and gets Paxman on his side too.

Nicklin's arguments are actually more compelling but he is coldly rational throughout. If only he had communicated them warmly (remember what I said last week about likeability being key to a successful TV performance) and he had used his final line as his first (always get your key message in up front to set the tone of your argument and the debate).

Key lessons:

On TV, passion is often more compelling than ration. Nicklin sounds like a cold, hired gun; Stephens like the people's hero.

You hear a lot of nonsense about communication being 7% content and 93% verbal and visual. I'll return to this in a later posting. But this is a prime example of how people can often respond to how rather than what you communicate.

PRWeek and Electric Airwaves will host a masterclass for in-house communicators on 4th December, offering participants tips and techniques on how to exploit the media opportunity. For your free place, email with your name, title and organisation

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