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‘How much does a pint of milk cost, minister?’

Crisis Comms shortcut

If you’re talking to the press, particularly in a crisis, beware the personal question.

The classic, which often surfaced during election campaigns, was for a journalist to ask the agriculture minister what the asking price was for a pint of milk down the local ASDA. A wildly off beam answer, which could pretty much be relied on as ministers don’t spend much time at Waitrose, would indicate the other worldly nature of the elected member who had entirely lost touch with the electorate. Above all don’t say your wife usually does the shopping.

Politicians wised up to this line of enquiry a while ago, or at least it looked that way. Then it happened again.

This week the new leader of Kensington Council, tasked with helping victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, was asked whether she had ever visited a council block prior to the tragedy. In her cut-glass tones, Elizabeth Campbell had to admit she had ‘never been inside a high-rise tower block.’

Unsurprisingly this provoked a furious backlash. She has been a local councillor for more than 11 years and this admission indicated to some that she was not the right person for the task at hand.

Personal questions

I have no wish to add to the opprobrium being heaped on Ms Campbell, but from a crisis communication perspective it is always wise to anticipate the personal question.

  • ‘If this had happened to your son or daughter would you be happy with this response?’
  • ‘What is your personal message to shareholders?’
  • ‘If one of the victims were here now what would you say to them personally?’
  • ‘What would you be doing in these circumstances if you were one of those suffering?

These types of questions may be tricky to answer, but with a little forethought they can be anticipated.

Remember: Do or say anything wildly out of touch with the public mood during a crisis and you will reap the whirlwind.