How Not to Hold a News Conference
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
Normally political parties, especially those not doing well in the popularity polls, want attention from the news media. Last week in Alberta though, the Kenney government avoided the media, until it had no other choice.
Normally when a cabinet minister makes a public appearance at a scheduled event, the media is informed and invited to attend with the message being "Please interview our minister and provide coverage for our announcement." Not last week.
One news conference was even abruptly ended when a reporter wanted to ask a question he wasn't supposed to. It was a great example of how not to do media relations.
I haven’t written a blog since the start of the summer. I’ve enjoyed a little more time to enjoy the good weather and quite frankly, there wasn’t much to write about that grabbed my attention. I usually write about the media and stories in the media and it was a seemingly endless summer of COVID stories.
It still is.
Last week in Lacombe though, there was an incident that really caught by attention. Ron Orr, who’s both Culture Minister and the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, held a media availability to talk about Alberta Culture Days. I didn’t know we had a Culture Days in Alberta, so I guess holding a newser to promote it wasn’t such a bad idea. Unfortunately, Nav Sangha of CTV Calgary didn’t want to play along with the government’s agenda for the media availability.
Here’s what happened.
Here's How It's Done
Shutting the news conference down was Orr’s Press Secretary Amanda LeBlanc. She’s been taking a lot of heat in the media for her move, but I won’t join in the criticism of her personally. She may have been directed by one of her bosses to do what she did and part of her job is to protect Orr from the media when she senses he’s in trouble.
Too often Press Secretaries and Communication people get criticized for simply carrying out the orders of others, even though they may have told their bosses shutting down a reporter won't turn out well.
Here’s what should have happened. When you schedule a media availability to do what many in the media call a “fluff piece” like Alberta Culture Days and there’s something much bigger in the news, you need to be aware that reporters will show up who want to talk about the bigger story and not something like Culture Days. That’s just the way it works.
You then need to decide how you’re going to handle questions about the bigger issue. In this case, it was Premier Kenney and his top health officials missing in action as COVID numbers were going through the roof.
If you decide to go ahead with the newser, then you need to get your Minister ready to answer the questions about the bigger story, so when the questions come (and they will) he’ll be ready for them.
The same thing happened last week when Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews announced a $10 billion drop in the projected annual deficit. He was asked questions about COVID and a lack of a government response. He was prepared with an answer. I didn’t really like his answer, but he had one ready to go. “That” didn’t really become the story like it was with Orr in Lacombe.
When a Press Secretary shuts down a news conference because of a perfectly good question from a reporter, it looks evasive, secretive and arrogant.
I Was on the News
Last Wednesday, I got a call from Jeremy Thompson of CTV Edmonton, who asked to interview me about the Kenney government’s “strategy” of avoiding the media and whether it made sense.
In addition to the Orr news conference gaffe, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appeared at “grip and grin” school opening ceremonies in the Edmonton area that the media wasn't told about in advance. This is normally the type of thing reporters are invited to attend to get some positive media coverage. New schools are always viewed positively.
The government however, knew the media wouldn’t cover the story it wanted covered. Reporters would ask LaGrange why the government isn’t mandating masks in schools and why the government isn’t doing more to protect kids and teachers, or both.
Here was the story that aired on CTV Edmonton. Let’s just say it was one weird week in Alberta politics, that ended last Friday with the Premier announcing the government would bribe people with $100 to try to bring up the sagging vaccination rate.
Videos courtesy of CTV Calgary and CTV Edmonton