Rating Jason Kenney's Media Skills
I think one of the most difficult jobs today is being a political leader, especially a provincial Premier or the Prime Minister.
Not only do you face major challenges every day, but many of those issues you can't really control such as the economy, the price of oil, or other commodities. Still though you're blamed for what happens. Then there's dealing with the news media, as reporters want to find out what you plan to do, what your thoughts are about something somebody else has said or done, or get your side of the story about something you would rather not talk about.
Jason Kenney became Alberta Premier after winning the April 16 election and in this week's blog, I'm rating his media skills.
Last Year's Report Cards
Last fall, I rated the media skills of Prime Minister Trudeau, then Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the Mayors of Edmonton and Calgary - Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi. You can read the full blog here.
In simple terms, they all got very good report cards, except for Trudeau, who I gave a B- at the time. After his recent flubs, including the “Drink box water bottles sort of thing” he would get no better than a C- for his media work. I think he’s really gone downhill and much of that is because, in my opinion, Trudeau doesn’t prepare well enough for questions he’s going to get from the media.
After I wrote that blog, somebody asked me to also rate the media skills of Jason Kenney, who was Alberta’s Opposition Leader at the time, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
I’m going to pass on Ford, because quite frankly in Alberta we don’t see a lot of him. (insert joke here about Ontario residents not being as lucky). I am however, going to give Premier Jason Kenney his media skills report card in this blog.
Before I get into that though, none of this involves my personal opinion of Kenney and his politics, nor does it relate to the scandal during the UCP leadership campaign last year and things like the earplugs used in the Alberta legislature recently. I’ll leave the politics to others. That’s not what I do. I do teach people, including politicians, to speak to the news media, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this blog.
In simple terms, I like what Kenney does in the media. He’s well spoken, confident, always in control and seemingly always prepared.
Preparation is so important. If you don’t think so, take a moment to reflect on the question PM Trudeau got a few weeks ago when he was asked what his family is doing to save plastic and the horrible response he gave. A huge part of being good in the media is being prepared for the questions you’re going to get. I’m pretty sure Trudeau wishes he would have been better prepared for that question.
Back to Kenney. Here’s an interview he did last February with the CBC’s Rosie Barton, before the Alberta election.
I have no way of knowing how CBC edited that interview. Regardless, some things are clear about Kenney’s media skills.
He’s well spoken. He’s very clear and has an excellent pace, meaning he’s not too fast or too slow. He has excellent eye contact with Barton and used his hands effectively to help him communicate better.
He’s really good at staying on message. The people who do excellent media interviews find ways to talk about what they want to talk about and not what the reporter wants them to talk about. The trick is, to do it without looking like they’re avoiding questions. Kenney does that well, although at times I’ve seen him not fully answer the reporter’s question. In this case, it led to Barton, early in the interview, not accepting one of Kenney’s answers and reframing the question asking what a Premier (in this case Notley) could really do better.
Let’s remember, Kenney has been around the political media since he was elected as a Calgary MP in 1997. He’s experienced and it shows.
Although Kenney is really good at answering media questions, there are a couple of things he could do better.
As I just referred to, he sometimes uses his own answers too often and that can lead to credibility problems. I would suggest Kenney should occasionally admit to accepting another point of view, or admitting something didn’t go as well as planned before getting into his answer. It would make that message more effective in my opinion.
Secondly, there’s room for Kenney to be a little more “human” in some of his responses. Perhaps he could smile more in some of his media work and not take himself too seriously. Just a little.
Those are small criticisms. Kenney will always come to media scrums prepared and use his knowledge and experience to give the answers he wants to give. You may not like his politics, but he’s good in front of the media.
Final Kenney Report Card Mark: A
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