Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Cardinal Pell’s PR mistake

“What a disastrous media conference, where should we start? ” writes public policy  blogger Dr Trevor Cook, a sentiment echoed by many in the aftermath  of this appalling performance.

The Archbishop’s response to the announcement of  a Royal Commission into child sex abuse  has been deservedly criticised.  We expected the bishop to be concerned and caring. We expected  to hear “Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected…” Instead he complained about ‘a persistent press campaign against the church’.  We wanted compassion and concern,  we got irritation and impatience.  It was poor timing and the wrong manner.  This was not the occasion to let concern for the  institution dominate  – it’s about the individuals.  Society is horrified by what’s happened, and not to join them  in expressing that horror was a serious misjudgment.  On such a sensitive and painful issue, this will be hard to repair.

More from Trevor Cook:

1. Tone is absolutely critical. Whatever you say, if the tone is bad you fail. The start of an inquiry is not the time to get all defensive and start talking about media smears and victimisation etc. If you get defensive many (probably most) people suspect you’re covering something up. Getting defensive at the start of an inquiry into your activities only confirms these suspicions. Pell should have tried for an open, confident tone by arguing that the Church had made improvements but would welcome any suggestions for further improvements that might come from the Royal Commission.

2. Respect for the victims doesn’t extend to speaking on their behalf especially when the victims seem to be universally in favour of the Royal Commission and you’re trying to argue that it will make things worse for at least of some of them. This is just patronising and, again, sounds like you’re hiding something.

3. Don’t blame the media, especially not at a media conference. No-one, including journalists, goes ‘oh yeah fair cop… it’s our fault’ in the face of a blatant blame-shifting exercise. Again just sounds like you’re ducking and weaving.

Lots of mistakes, what should Pell have done?

The key in a situation like this is to take control – go front foot not back foot.

You do that by being positive and constructive. You’ve got to make it something you’re doing to make things better, not something that is being done to you.

Pell should have set out a suggested constructive agenda (in broad terms) for the Royal Commission, while arguing that he also wants to see victims organisation playing a major role in designing the Commission’s terms of reference and processes. A constructive agenda would give the media something to cover, other than your own discomfort.

And you’ve got to stop talking when you’ve done that. Journos will try and get you to go negative, as soon as you do you bury your positive story.

Thanks Trevor, for letting me use your post.

Watch the 7.30 report story  and read the transcript here.

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This entry was posted on 14/11/2012 by in Audience connection, Speaking to Camera and tagged , .

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