In The Tonic Comms Blog

As Brexit uncertainty shows no sign of abating, Boris Johnson’s public image is unstable at best, with a growing list of social faux pas. While never too far from the media spotlight in recent years (who could forget the dangling-in-a-harness photo?), his seemingly harmless silliness stood out amongst the mundane seriousness of politics.

Was this comedic and carefree persona smoke and mirrors? Some would say that beneath the bumbling fluffy facade is a calculating, power-hungry politician.

Johnson possesses a propensity to stir up emotions and divide people. His inflammatory rhetoric has a Trumpian tone. In a previous blog, ‘Donald Trump: The Man Who Defies Reputation Management?’, we discussed Trump’s lack of concern for media backlash over his controversial comments regarding immigration and race.

Like Trump, Johnson continues to shift from one PR calamity to the next, outwardly indifferent to any repercussions. When faced with tough reporter questions, Johnson appears visibly uneasy and re-utters the repetitive phrase “get Brexit done”. Clearly, the rules of reputation management do not always apply for political leaders.

In a recent furore, Johnson said that the best way to honour the death of murdered MP Jo Cox was to ‘get Brexit done’, which was an interesting position given that Cox had campaigned against Brexit. He described the concern that he should tone down his inflammatory language as ‘humbug’. Unlike the boiled sweet, Johnson’s comment left many with a sour taste and placed the PM under intense media scrutiny.

Handling media in a crisis

Media crises can be compounded as a result of interview blunders that end up in the national news. In the digital age, information spreads like wildfire. This means that reputation management has become a primary concern in PR. If a business experiences negative media attention, it can be seriously damaging to their brand image and puts the future of the company at stake.

Here are some top tips for dealing with challenging interviews:

Before the interview…

  • Preparation is key. Consider potential issues that reporters may raise and how to respond positively. Have specific details and facts at hand to add value to your response.

During the interview…

  • Determine your audience and their perception of your brand image. Gain their understanding through appealing to shared values.
  • Retain credibility by answering questions within your authority and knowledge. Avoid speculation and only commit to certainties.
  • If you are faced with an accusatory question, push back rather than sit back. Refusing to comment can appear to the public as an admission of guilt.
  • Rather than follow Johnson’s example, accept responsibility when needed and propose an action plan to avoid the mistake happening again.
  • Barack Obama, on the other hand, shows us how it’s done. He received negative media attention after commenting that people earn more with manufacturing skills than with an art degree. He immediately apologised for his off-the-cuff remark and even sent a hand-written letter back to one art historian.

After the interview…

  • Prioritise media management and provide consistent updates.
  • Keep up to date with social media and respond carefully to the public if the story continues to circulate.

At The Tonic Communications, we’re experts in providing key techniques to manage risk and safeguard a client’s reputation to avoid a media crisis. If you are concerned about how your business will deal with a media emergency, don’t hesitate to contact us.

You can also download our crisis communications health check here.