Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Mis-Communicators of 2011

Anthony Weiner

Not many beyond the Washington belt-way had heard of Anthony Weiner before this year. Now you probably have and for all the wrong reasons. It was a classic political sex scandal with an added modern twist – his ‘affairs’ were all conducted via social media. The then Congressman Weiner was caught sending pictures of his crotch via Twitter to a ‘friend’ which he denied were of him. Subsequently more women came forward with similar pictures which eventually led to Weiner resigning from office.

Social media has heralded in a new level of transparency in public and business life which Anthony Weiner seemed oblivious to. He displayed extraordinary arrogance in thinking that he could deny something as obvious as pictures and messages which were clearly only sent from him. By lying in the way he did it became inevitable that he would have to resign. His cover-up was suicidal. The fact his name is Weiner gave the sordid scandal an extra element of farce and the headline writers an open-goal.  

Rupert Murdoch

It is fair to say that the Chairman of News Corporation has never had a year as bad as this one. That he failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation facing his brands in the UK is clear. That he failed to understand an urgent need to communicate clearly and with humility is surprising. For a man who helped to invent modern tabloid journalism his lack of understanding of how he, his family and his businesses were being perceived was bizarre. 

Murdoch could have made this list for a number of reasons; from a pure crisis communications perspective where he failed to get a grip on the problems at News International to his performance in front of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee. One moment for me illustrates how badly Rupert Murdoch communicated during 2012: his strange appearance outside his Mayfair flat on arriving in the UK to ‘take charge’ of the phone-hacking scandal, where he announced his first priority was Rebekah Brooks.

This was in a week when it was announced the News of the World was closing with the loss of 200 jobs, with new allegations of criminal activity emerging daily. For Murdoch to state that his first priority was the then News International Chief Executive was intensely naive and communicated remoteness to the reality of the situation.

Over 6 months on and News International are yet to recover; despite many of the most severe allegations then being made now known to be false. For this Murdoch must take a lot of the blame. 

The RFU

It is amazing that, despite international sport being big business, very few sports are run as such. Sports have turnovers measured in millions, sometimes billions, of pounds and dollars only to be organised and run like a training exercise in the classic sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’.

After the terrible earthquake which hit New Zealand earlier in the year it was great to see an exciting and successful rugby world cup take place. Sadly, while New Zealand communicated to the world it was still very much open for business, England as a team, and the Rugby Football Union as their bosses, signalled a renewed level of incompetence and amateurism.

For many years rugby has been lauded by football as an example of how to run a sport. Despite the England national side and the Football Association not exactly drowning in success, few will make that comparison for quite some time. The rugby world cup resulted in a damaged reputation for professional rugby in England: its players were uncontrollable (behaving like footballers); the team’s management were aloof and unengaging with supporters and the media; the administrators descended into civil war; the England team played uninspiring rugby and were deservingly knocked out in the quarter-finals.

From the boardroom to the players via the management, 2011 was a communication disaster on so many levels. What they said, how they said it, as well as how they all acted was wrong time and again. What a mess.

Herman Cain

In late summer Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza turned US presidential candidate, had soared ahead of his Republican rivals.  His simple, and well communicated (to such a degree that I awarded him my Communicator of the Week) 9-9-9 tax plan, connected with ordinary voters struggling to get by in the midst of America’s ongoing economic problems.

The 9-9-9 plan coupled with dynamic performances in the televised debates cut through the mediocrity, which defines many of the Republican candidates, to such an extent that he began to attract genuine scrutiny. This is where it all went wrong. As is so often true in public life: after the rise, came the fall. 

When allegations about his private life began to surface he failed to recognise, let alone deal with, the crisis that was swamping his presidential campaign. He refused to answer questions; dodging cameras and reporters. Finally he did address the allegations, hosting a press conference to face up to the media which was a great move, until it back-fired, as he was less than honest with the facts.

The great simplicity with which he had communicated his tax plan deserted him as he became muddled at best and dishonest at worst. Herman Cain is no longer running for president. 

Ed Miliband

With the British economy teetering on the edge of a recession for much of 2011 – high unemployment and dire predictions of further woes from many economists – Ed Miliband should have secured a sizable lead in the opinion polls over his political rivals. That he didn’t has been much discussed, often focussing on his performances at Prime Minister’s Questions. While it is true that he rarely betters the Prime Minister, it is his failure to even be recognised by much of the electorate which should worry Labour strategists.

The most pressing problem facing this country today is the economy but Miliband and his team have failed to explain how they would make the lives of the average family better. This is a gross dereliction of duty from a leader of the opposition. Miliband’s language is often clich├ęd and, more frequently than that, far too obvious or tribal. He fails to connect with voters because of this but also due to his clips for the TV news being completely uninspired.

People don’t think he has good ideas, can ever see themselves having a pint with him in their local, or respect him as someone who will look after their interests. If that isn’t a politician failing to communicate then I’m not sure what is. 

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