March 26th, 2012
Last week’s buzz on how Director of Communications Sara MacIntyre handled a band of marauding reporters during a trade show visit by her boss Christy Clark, British Columbia’s premier, drew harsh criticism. Airing throughout Canada, the clip has been used by media training and communications gurus as an example of what not to do when interfacing with the press. If you have not seen the exchange, click here.
On the surface, it is easy to make Sara the villain, citing her defensive exchange, condescending tone, and body language. There seem to be many different facets of the story that may have provoked this heated confrontation, most notably that in her new role Sara has clamped down on the media’s access to the premier – a similar strategy that she allegedly implemented when serving as the press secretary for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Politics aside, let’s take a closer look at the good, bad and ugly.
If you forward to the :53 second mark on the video, Sara did a good job staying on message and communicating the agenda of the premier’s visit, which in her words was “To meet with clean energy companies at the GLOBE trade show.” This seven-second statement was clear and concise, and she delivered it with a smile. Had this been the extent of the interaction, the reporters may have pressed her further, but the interaction would have likely dissipated.
What happened prior to the :53 second mark was bad. One can argue the altercation was a function of politics or the premier’s “locked down” media strategy. It may have also been spurred by a miscommunication from different press offices, as the media were expecting the premier to take questions based on an advisory they received. However, Sara indicated, with an agitated tone, that her office did not distribute any advisory and reinforced that the premier was not taking questions, much to the dismay of the media. This seemed to be the flashpoint. During the exchange, several reporters peppered Sara with rapid-fire questions (some inquiring about her role, credentials and when she started). At one point she was responding to two different reporters at the same time.
From the 1:00 mark to the end of the clip, things unraveled. Instead of walking away, and not entertaining any other questions, Sara stopped several times which provided new opportunities for the reporters to continue to ask questions as to why the premier was not accessible. When she arrived at the booth where the premier was engaging with an exhibitor, Sara turned to the reporters in tow and in somewhat of a taunt, repeated, “Not taking questions today,” and “you want to shoot the premier. She is right there.” That behavior was unnecessary and provided the ugly imagery that helped make this ordeal go viral.
There has always been a contentious, yet symbiotic relationship between the media, politicians and their handlers. Each needs the other to serve their needs and agenda. In the end it comes down to mutual respect, the lack of which fueled the fire between Sara and these reporters.
Would you have handled the situation any different? If so, how?