Theresa May, election, argument, trousers

Have an argument in public – the press loves it

One of the golden rules of media engagement is not to have an argument when the press is looking. It’s too much fun for us to report. There have been good examples in the media very recently.

They come from the top, too. Our government has taken to falling out in public in the UK, and if the opposition weren’t tearing itself to shreds at the same time more people would notice. Lately we’ve seen:

  • Boris Johnson telling Saudi Arabia some home truths as he sees them – and being slapped down by Downing Street immediately;
  • Former education secretary Nicky Morgan criticising Theresa May for spending money on expensive designer trousers, getting banned from Downing Street as a result and most recently getting slapped down by a Tory Grandee for trivialising the Brexit vote.

So, other than annoying the government – and believe me there are plenty of examples from the other side, just consider the attempts to unseat Jeremy Corbyn over the summer – what do these stories share in common? I’ll tell you: they are the most brilliant fun to write about because we love to see the rich and powerful making fools of themselves and falling out.

But if you were to do something similar in business, how would it work out for you?

Market shares

When I first started working for the technology press there were two stories I wrote every month. They had similar topics and covered market shares from software companies. First, there was the periodic row between Microsoft and WordPerfect over who was ahead in the word processing market.

Each claimed leadership. Each subscribed to different market research figures, so thought they were correct and would issue press releases making contrary claims at the same time. Call them up for quotes, put the other company’s figures to them and without fail you’d end up with a highly entertaining story about organisations taking chunks out of each other.

It was the same in the accounting software market. Sage, still the market leader, would issue a press release confirming this periodically, and its then rival Pegasus would jump up and say “no they’re not!” – and we’d report it.

They were easy stories to write. The quotes were genuine. And once, I asked one of our readers what they thought.

Guess what, this stuff doesn’t play well

The magazine on which I was working was aimed at technology dealers. They depended on IT to earn their livings, and predictably enough, they were left wondering why their suppliers spent so much time bickering in the press instead of marketing their products to make more opportunity for their sales partners.

Likewise, fun though Theresa’s trousers are, Nicky Morgan’s local Tory party is suggesting it has no idea what she’s playing at. Whatever your politics, you can see that’s unhelpful given that she’s a Conservative MP.

We’ll always publish this stuff. Punch-ups make brilliant copy and the readers find them entertaining. However, you don’t work for us. The stakeholder readers, the ones at whom you’re aiming, might well end up despising you for what you’re doing. So avoid getting involved in verbal fisticuffs – and get some strategies under your belt to avoid being dragged into them.

Photo: Flickr: DFID

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