Media training: How do the Tory leadership election candidates stack up
By Catherine Hunter, Energy team Account Director
As we approach the results for the Conservative leadership election, there’s been significant scrutiny on the candidates’ policies around the NHS, environment and taxes. But there’s been a lesser focus on their media techniques.
Liz Truss has openly admitted she isn’t as well polished as a public speaker as her rival, Rishi Sunak, but what tips and tricks could both candidates look to work on as they steer the country into their direction as Prime Minister?
Bridging is a technique that helps you move from one area of conversation to another. The approach works best when the question asked is answered – or at least in part – before moving onto a slightly different conversation point.
In this interview with Nick Ferrari, Sunak is asked about his image in politics. He’s challenged on both appearance and pulling pints while being tee-total. Rather than saying simply, “I should be judged on my ideas” Sunak acknowledges some of the criticisms given before saying, “this is about what I’m going to be able to do for the country” and he then uses that line to bridge into some of the core values of the party and how he supports them.
However, in this clip, Truss directly fails to answer the question on the emotions she’d feel around launching nuclear weapons. After failing to answer the question once, it’s repeated and the same soundbite of “I’m ready to do it” is given. And while the audience response clearly shows this is a popular reaction to the question, Truss could have deployed the art of bridging to make this stronger. Even simply saying, “I’m sure I’d be feeling a lot of emotions, but it’s a part of the job I’m ready to do.” This is still allowing that soundbite to come through but gives the sense the question is answered.
The bridging technique works well for both parties in a media dance. The interviewer gets an answer, but the interviewee can also steer the conversation towards an area they feel more comfortable in – or in this case – get some key vote winning ideas across.
However, when taking a question from the public around jobs in the cabinet, Truss performs an excellent display of different two techniques. The first is bridging, where she responds to the need for a “leaner” cabinet by rejecting that idea but calling for a leaner Number 10.
The other technique displayed here is underscoring. Truss acknowledged Kemi Badenoch could be in her cabinet at the start of her answer before she returns to Badenoch and her credentials. Underscoring the point that she’s a good fit for a cabinet post.
And while Truss does this well, Sunak clearly details vulnerable customers as a dividing line between him and Truss on energy bills. Not only do we notice a return to that theme at the end of this clip, he also uses changes in tone to draw attention to the words “vulnerable” and “pensioners”.
Underscoring is an invaluable tool to making sure the key messages you’ve worked on are the lasting memory for the interviewer.
There are, however, times when the topic being discussed is very narrow in its focus and you want to introduce a new idea entirely. This is where signposting becomes important.
After taking a few questions on the public sector pay and her revoked policy, Truss sees an opportunity to move the conversation onto the wider topic of the cost of living in this interview with Kay Burley. The back and forth on public sector pay isn’t really moving forward and so it’s Truss that makes the decision to move the topic on, which Burley follows and questions on cost of living follow. This is arguably safer ground for Truss as there wasn’t a political U-turn on the issue to defend.
Both candidates will have a set of key messages – some even in the form of soundbites – they intend to get across to media and the effective deploying of signposting is a great way to bring them into a debate or interview that would otherwise not cover key topics.
And while being the best public speaker, or media performer, is unlikely to be the only reason a candidate becomes the favourite, it helps to ensure key messages resonate.
If you’d like to hear more about how media training could help your key messages land in your next campaign, find out more here.