It’s something everyone feels. The moment the camera goes on, the words start coming out of the journalist’s mouth and the slow, dawning realisation hits you. This is live. You become acutely aware of the simplest things; how you’re speaking, where you hold your hands, even the frequency of your blinking. Suddenly, the simplest of tasks like getting your words out, becomes a thought-intensive and complicated process.
At Bell Pottinger North we help our clients get through these difficult moments with expert media training from former journalists. One of the first lessons we teach trainees is to keep calm and handle any situation with care, compassion and control. Perhaps it is reassuring then to remember that even ‘experts’ at the art make mistakes.
On Monday, David Cameron was called into the Commons to discuss the future of his minister Jeremy Hunt who was facing accusations of complicity in News International’s takeover of BSkyB.
As soon as the Prime Minister started speaking, it was clear it wasn’t the calm and collected man we are used to. He immediately began launching tirades against the opposition benches, obviously irked at being called into the Commons when he was supposed to be campaigning.
This culminated in a comment he made to Dennis Skinner MP, the 80-year old MP affectionately known as the Beast of Bolsover for his bolshiness. The MP asked in his typical style:
“Why is the secretary of state for culture getting better employment rights than the rest of the workers in Britain? Is it possibly because you know that whilst ever the culture secretary is in the firing line, that it prevents the bullets from hitting you, the Prime Minister?”
To which the Prime Minister replied:
“Well you have the right at any time to take your pension and I advise you to do so.”
Just weeks after the controversy over a ‘granny tax’, the morning after the newspapers and airwaves were awash with accusations of ageism, losing control and bullying.
The mistake the Prime Minister made was a simple one. He forgot to handle the situation with care and compassion and turned a bad situation into a worse one.
It is always worth remembering when that camera switches on and the journalist starts speaking, whatever worries go through your head, just remember to keep cool and carry on.