Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Chris Huhne's PR nightmare

In a crisis situation it is always recommended to act with the utmost speed in order to get on top of a story. This is true in business or in politics. Saying nothing is not an option as this allows the media and your opponents to fill a gaping void in the 24 rolling news stream which may damage your reputation still further.

So it has been with interest that I have been watching how climate change secretary Chris Huhne has handled himself over the last two weeks. While he was the Yes campaign's preferred attack dog during the AV referendum - leaping into the fray and onto the news channels at a moments notice - with the allegations made against him he has become very quiet indeed.

One argument, often made by PR handlers of an older generation, is that if you neither confirm or deny a story then that leaves the media nowhere to go. I disagree, with the influence blogs such as Guido Fawkes have, pushing the boundaries which the traditional media gleefully follow, Huhne's handling of this crisis has been woefully inadequate.

Put simply (to use a phrase Huhne is ever so fond of) if he had nothing to hide he should have come out when the allegations were first made on 7/8 May and drawn a line in the sand. Instead he was "uncontactable" for those papers leading on the driving fine story despite clearly briefing other Sunday papers at the same time. His inexperienced and unproven SpAd was left fielding calls from the media and provided unsatisfactory and weasel-worded answers to their questions.

It took 9 long days - and further revelations in the Sunday papers - until Huhne finally broke cover. The idea looked clever - an 'impromtue' doorstep where no doubt it was agreed he would take one question and that would be that -  but he ballsed it up. David Cameron, in opposition, mastered the use of a doorstep to deliver a line to camera quickly and efficiently to move a positive story on or kill a negative one. Huhne's was far from Cameron's smoothly instigated operation:

- The venue was wrong - how can you be 'doorstepped' when you are clearly in an office building (probably your own);
-His demeanour - while trying to sound contrite actually made him sound huffy and annoyed;
-He failed to take control of the situation - after delivering his pre-prepared line he merely nodded at Laura Kuenssberg as if she wasn't going to ask him another question;
-His body language was terrible - when the inevitable follow up question came he jutted out his arms as if trying to push the media away while leaning backwards - this made him look evasive and guilty;
-Finally he just sloped off with head down, putting out his hand to stop the questions - once again a sign he is trying to hide something.

As the story develops over the coming days it will be interesting to see how Huhne and his team handle the situation. It can't be any worse than the way they've handled the last 9 days and may even become a case study in how not to handle a crisis.



  1. Running around like a headless Huhne ?

    Perhaps he ran out of charm, modesty, integrity a few weeks/years/lifetimes back ?

    Alan Douglas

  2. I think he was hoping it would all blow over. Stories like this don't vanish conveniently, and the public - and government - deserves to be told the truth.


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