Sara MacIntyre is the director of communications for Christy Clark, British Columbia’s Premier.
MacIntyre is new in her job, but she’s far from inexperienced. Prior to joining Premier Clark’s staff last month, she served as the press secretary for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Last week, she attended a conference with Clark. As you’ll see from the exchange below, she didn’t exactly exercise the typical best practices for good media relations.
It’s not unusual for communications directors to try to exercise media management, and it’s somewhat common to reduce media availabilities to photo ops. We see that almost daily in the U.S. on the campaign trail and at many presidential events.
[Editor's note: Read a former colleague's defense of MacIntyre.
But even by those standards, MacIntyre’s approach was counterproductive and unprofessional (Canada’s Globe and Mail
called her “TV’s newest villain
”) for at least four reasons:
1. She forgot who her audience was.
We teach students in our media training workshops that the reporter isn’t
your audience—the audience
is. MacIntyre seemed to forget who she was actually
communicating with, and failed to consider how her testy interaction would play in living rooms across Canada.
2. She had an attitude.
She looked defensive from the start, using a condescending tone, raising her eyebrows, and chewing gum. Being a communications director means you need to at least try
to maintain civil relationships with the press. She could have achieved the same goal of preventing the media from asking questions of the Premier in a more graceful manner.
3. She picked the wrong enemy.
Politicians often gain traction by beating up on the media. But the media has to do something wrong for that strategy to work. In this exchange, the public didn’t see the press behaving badly. The reporters acted respectfully enough, asked basic questions, and didn’t abuse their right to be in a public space. Since there was no apparent provocation, MacIntyre managed only to make herself look like the bad guy.
4. Her response garnered worse press.
MacIntyre’s response spawned numerous stories across Canada about her approach to media relations. It’s difficult to believe those stories served Premier Clark well. MacIntyre could have either clamped down on the press more respectfully or allowed a couple of questions. Both options would have avoided those negative headlines, and both would have been preferable to her attitude-laden performance.
(A grateful h/t to readers @bobledrew and @aboucherfuse.
Visit the Mr. Media Training Blog to see the 21 Most Essential Media Training Links. Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training.