… not that he needs my advice, apparently, according to Colleague Wells’ cryptic-by-proxy latest, of course. But if some bizarre flux in the space-time continuum resulted in me being put in charge of picking the new PMO communications director, my wishlist would be as follows:
(I’m going to leave out the obvious stuff like “Always call back even if it’s to say no comment” and “Don’t lie,” because really, those should be obvious. And yet.)
- I know we’re all about disdain for the (so-called mainstream) media here, and it’s not like you’re going to find many other staffers who will admit to actually liking – or, at least, not hating – certain news outlets or reporters, but here’s the thing: that’s actually your job: not hating the press. You don’t do it so the rest of us can. That means that it’s perfectly okay if you’re seen talking to a reporter. In fact, if you weren’t, I’d wonder just why we pay you the big bucks; it’s certainly not to hole up in the Langevin bunker and stick pins in your CBC reporter voodoo doll. It’s an adversarial relationship, but it doesn’t have to be openly hostile. At least, not for you. You may be our emissary to the godless demimonde that is the parliamentary press gallery, but in a way, you’re also their conduit back to PMO, and we really aren’t going to hold it against you if you don’t actively go out of your way to make it harder for journalists to do their jobs.
- If you think we – PMO, that is, or me personally, or my boss (who is, of course, ultimately your boss too) – are about to make a horrible mistake, tell me. Really. I promise I won’t fire you, even if it means throwing our entire communications strategy out the window at the very last minute. That’s why I’ve hired you, presumably — because you know more than we do about how the media works. I’d rather you told me before things were on the verge of pear-shaping, of course — it’s much less insanely stressful that way, and is less likely to wind up with me taking any resulting lightning bolts hurled down from above, but if you wake up at 3am the night before a major launch with the sickening realization that we’re about to set ourselves on fire in front of the nation’s press, I’d really rather know about it then, and not, say, the day after, when the nightmare scenario media clippings start to come in.
- Don’t make MPs – or staffers, or anyone else who could conceivably come in contact with the media – so paranoid of saying the wrong thing that they become incapable of functioning without a full set of talking points in hand. Yes, occasionally, someone will say something idiotic and embarrassing, and you’ll have a communications minicrisis on your hands. Guess what? It’s usually not the end of the world. Life goes on, as does the news cycle, and there’s a good chance someone else will say or do something equally idiotic and embarrassing within a few days, at which point the swarm will move on. But if you continually undermine the confidence of everyone around you by making it clear that, as far as you’re concerned, they’re pretty much incapable of answering even the most innocuous questions without bringing down the government, they’re going to be more likely to freak out and — yes, say something stupid — out of sheer terror. Whereas if they have at least some experience in dealing with the press, they’re more likely to survive even the most combative encounter. In the end, that makes everyone’s life a lot easier, including yours.
I was planning on writing up my journalistic wishlist as well, but that will have to wait until later today, since I’m about to head off to the US Ambassador’s place to liveblog the highlights of the annual Fourth of July bash. Oh, and Happy Independence Day to my three American readers!