Opinion: The Lib Dem communications heart attack

I am a computer logistician by profession. I can tell you all about managing defective material retention contracts and the comparative stocking strategies of power supplies. I don’t pretend to be an expert in communications.

So the following comes under the heading of “as any fule kno”, and therefore these statements are easy to make when, like me, you don’t know what you are talking about.

Communications Rule One

The first rule of media crisis management was succinctly summarised for me on a con call a few months ago:

“When a crisis breaks get all your dirty washing out into the open in the ‘first hour’. Be surprisingly confessional in one hit immediately and then shut up. Go into complete lockdown and don’t say another word (virtually).”

That is what the PR crisis managers tell you.

Communications Rule Two

I suspect there is a similar rule for internal communications. Keep the troops informed. If some issue breaks, then explain it to the troops straight away. Indeed, this rule has been religiously followed by the Lib Dem leadership in the last couple of years. If something happens, we get an email explaining it.

So I think it is reasonable to ask: What, in the name of Sam Hill, happened to rule one and two in the Liberal Democrats in the last two weeks?

Rule One was completely turned inside out and the opposite was done for the Rennard allegations question. “They” decided to put out piecemeal bits every day or so, just for a bit of a laugh. They are still doing it. Great fun for all!

Rule Two was just buried under six feet of stony silence for the secret courts afair.

What on earth is going on?

Why on earth are such huge basic mistakes in communications management being made?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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12 Comments

  • Rule One is a very good one. But I suspect it’s much more difficult when you have someone denying allegations who is supposed to have left on health grounds, and you have loads of anonymous allegations involving various rumours and counter-rumours making it harder to establish the truth.

    Not saying it was all handled perfectly, but not sure it was possible to handle in the standard PR template fashion.

  • Pitt the Younger 11th Mar '13 - 10:31am

    Rule number 1 is absolute correct. However, getting all of the information out there in one go is contingent on a couple of things:

    1) Knowing all that information. It sounds obvious, but you can only share what you know. Many of the drips of information are things that are new to, apparently, most people so therefore it’s difficult to control them.

    2) All the people who are involved being on board. If you think of all the people who have been implicated so far, in order for your ‘share all’ strategy to work, they all have to share what they knew/did with you immediately and be fully signed up to publishing it. I’m not saying anyone is hiding anything further, but that kind of operation would, I suspect, take a huge amount of time which we didn’t have.

  • David Pollard 11th Mar '13 - 11:31am

    The Rules should be on the wall in every political office!

  • Simon Beard 11th Mar '13 - 1:33pm

    You ask whats going on. I haven’t the foggyist, but I’m willing to make a guess.

    Up until a week ago all hands were on deck in Eastleigh, people who should have been back at head office planning communications weren’t and if they were then they were covering for others who weren’t. Then the by-election was won and either those same people took the eye off the ball or took a well deserved break. Its not like the party has as many paid employees as it once did, it can’t afford them, and it put just about everything into winning Eastleigh. My guess then is that there just wasn’t enough left to run a proper communications strategy which left individuals making up their own minds about what to say with the consequence that they have either said far too much (Rennard) or far too little (CMPs).

    It’s just a guess.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 9:02pm

    Communication Rule Zero
    Be honest, forthright, open.

    Communications Rule Three
    Communicate, don’t Block. Express your message in terms that allow the recipients to understand it. If they don’t understand it, they won’t respond the way you want

    Communications Rule Four
    Get your message checked – trial it on a small group before release. Forgetting something that will be crucial for your audience is easy to do. Saying something that can be interpreted in a way you didn’t expect is another potential pitfall

    Communications Rule Five
    Be brave, have faith. Express your message in terms that allow the recipients to make a free judgement on it. If they’re free to judge, they might give you the benefit of the doubt. If they’re not, they might assume the pressure you’re applying means you’re lying

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