Staying on message


I was catching up with a mate for a drink on Friday who I hadn’t seen in quite sometime.

We’re good friends, we actually go way back, but there’s always been one aspect of his personality that drives me a little insane.

Whenever I see him, he persistently quotes Eddie Murphy’s Delirious stand up show. 

He can’t stop.  It’s impossible.  If doctors were to examine him, I’m 74% certain they’d uncover some sort of degenerative disease that prevents him from doing anything except quote Eddie Murphy.

The first few times it was entertaining.  Then it got a little annoying.  Then it started to really tick me off.  Now, I’m one more Eddie Murphy anecdote from going on a three day killing spree.

The funny thing is, as a PR person, I’m often training clients to ‘stay on message’. 

“Don’t worry about the question you’re asked.  Rather, answer the question you wish you were asked.”

The greatest exponents of this are politicians.  They have been media trained to within an inch of their life and boy, does it show.

A great example of this is our current Prime Minister.  She is possibly the most ‘on message’ politician in the history of western civilisation (narrowly edging out Alfred Deakin in second place and William the Conqueror in third.  Mark Latham is last.).

Have you ever watched one of her media briefings or press conferences?  You can’t help but be impressed. 

It is, in a lot of ways, largely irrelevant what question she is asked because she has her go-to method of answering it, which is to essentially not answer it at all.  In fact, 2UE journalist Latika Bourke recently proclaimed Julia Gillard as ‘The Queen of Unanswered Questions”.

If she is asked a tough question, the PM will give a little laugh, make a dry observation and then say something completely irrelevant.  She then turns to another journalist who will ask something completely different. 

In other words, she manages to avoid difficult questions with the ease of Isabel Lucas ordering another apple martini.

A key part to Gillard’s effectiveness is her repetition of messages.  Most recently, her use of the phrase ‘moving forward’ has come under scrutiny due to the monotonous repetition by which she used it and its breach of copyright with Toyota.

In fact, in her first press conference of the election campaign she used the phrase ‘moving forward’ an astonishing 35 times.

To put this in perspective, that’s one more than atomic number of selenium. 

It’s one more than Edmond Dantès's prisoner number in The Count of Monte Cristo. 

It’s 52 less than the number of drug charges Lindsay Lohan has received in the past six months. 

And it’s a whopping 72 short of the number of fake laughs David Koch’s guests have offered in the past three weeks.

Still, it was a lot and it started to grate on the electorate.  In fact, when ABC journalist Mark Simkin played 10 ‘moving forwards’ in fast succession on his evening bulletin, it looked like something out of a stand up comedy routine.

The question here is, when does being ‘on message’ start to hurt your image?  Can you be so on message that it starts to annoy journalists and they end up writing a negative article as a result?

Should we, rather than encouraging clients to stick to a limited number of talking points, encourage them to be a little more open?

Gillard today seems to think that she has now been ‘too on message’ and made a vow that now people would see the ‘real’ her, (which begs the question, who was the red headed woman at all those press conferences if it wasn’t her??). 

Perhaps it’s something we need to consider too.

In fact, next time I see my mate and he opens his mouth to start quoting Eddie Murphy, I might give him the same advice Mr. T so often gives.

“Shut up, fool!”

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Eddie Murphy
One of my mates quotes
Delirious relentlessly.

Monte Cristo
Edmond Dantes was in cell 34 before
he sought his vengeance.