David Cameron’s Great Expectations

 David Camerons Great Expectations

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU by 2017. By then, he said, his government would be able to work with its European partners on reforms towards his vision of a better EU – in his words, more flexible, more adaptable, more open. At that point, he proposed, Brits should decide to stay in or get out.

The speech itself was direct, upfront, thoughtful, and inclusive.  It was passionate where appropriate, describing the UK approach as “practical rather than emotional.” There were concessions for every interest group: sufficient criticism to please at home, but nothing so deeply offensive as to justify open outrage by powerful partners abroad. No obvious blunders, no mistakes; just smart speechwriting at its best.

Although debatable that the “EU issue” was  top-of-mind for British people, they will now rightly expect their government to get it resolved. Was Cameron’s tactic to appease the conservative UK press and the euro-sceptics in his own party? If so, did it buy him time to focus on more important issues, or has he seriously jeopardized his political future? From a communications perspective, he opened up not one but many Pandora’s boxes and inspired a myriad of expectations. Was this the intention?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for David Cameron. Be wary of creating expectations that you may not want to meet.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Only promise what you can deliver. Communicating always involves creating and managing expectations, and in complex situations, different stakeholders’ expectations inevitably diverge. Even if the public pressure is almost unbearable (and it seems it wasn’t in this case) controversy is almost never resolved by creating new expectations. When you can’t control expecations and aren’t certain of the outcome, then it’s usually the most vocal who demand their stance be taken. This is one speech Cameron may come to regret.




Who Says “Fit and Proper”?

rupertmurdoch1may Who Says Fit and Proper?

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Tories and their decision re being "fit and proper".

Isn’t it marvelous what a difference a public enquiry makes?  Rupert Murdoch is now not a “fit and proper” person to run a public company according to the  Culture Committee of the UK Parliament, which issued its headline making report yesterday.  Although Murdoch was “fit and proper” enough to be amongst the first to meet with David Cameron when he officially became Prime Minister.  This is one friendship that will create ongoing PR issues for the British PM, despite his already numerous attempts to create some distance from the media mogul.

Tory party committee members chose not to fully endorse yesterday’s report because of the insistence by the Labour and Liberal Democrat majority on describing Murdoch as “not a fit person” to run a major international company.  One Tory committee member told the press conference yesterday that the committee had seen “absolutely no evidence” to endorse such a “completely ludicrous” conclusion.

Such highhanded dismissive language seems out of sync with the report and recent headlines.  With over 30 arrests since the scandal erupted, multiple apologies from Murdoch, millions paid in compensation, and under the table payments having been made to police, there seems ample air cover to endorse a “not fit” label.   The PR onus rested on the report’s dissenters to explain more fully their abstention.  Yesterday’s comments inadvertently place Cameron and his party into being unofficial Murdoch champions. Was that the intention?

The PR Verdict:  “D” for the Tories.  The decision to hold out on agreeing with the committee’s crucial finding, for whatever reason, has placed David Cameron in a tight place.  This was a tactical PR blunder.

PR takeaway: Taking a principled stand is one thing. Taking a stand without explanation is another.   Having signed off on the report’s wording that said it is “simply not credible” that the Murdochs had “no inkling of what was going on”, a high handed dismissive approach from a Tory party committee member misses the PR mark.  The ripple effect for the British PM is that he is now in the uncomfortable PR dilemma of defending Murdoch and his party’s decision,  despite the highly critical findings of the report.  Some nuanced and finer wording from the dissenters might have easily avoided the trouble Cameron seems now destined to walk into.

To read about the report click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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