229: Be prepared to defend yourself
Not all political comment is welcome and sometimes politicians simply get things wrong. But don’t sit back, think about your reputation and defend yourself.
There can be a tendency to steer away from responding to a politician. The risks can be considered too high when balanced against the often limited upside. A ‘wounded’ politician can, after all, tend to respond in quite a forceful and vocal manner.
You also need to avoid the prospect of escalating the problem beyond all initial recognition. That can happen if the ones involved really feel as if they are being singled out. Or the reaction is much too extreme. So a balanced approach would be correct. A vocal, over-the-top response will only increase the risk of ratcheting up the reputational damage.
But remember no-one sets out to deliberately provide mis-information or simply get things wrong. Very often all that is needed is to hear the other side of the story. So reaching out to provide the balance, perspective and correct anything that is actually wrong is more than acceptable and should be encouraged. Tone and content are key but the principle is correct.
Some deference can get the better of the instinct to push back. But poor information and misguided opinions can be shared amongst political or policy audiences just as they can with any others. Unless you do something about it, then it risks becoming the accepted wisdom. That becomes even more difficult to correct.
Think about some of these approaches:
- Do not ‘hide’ behind trade or membership bodies – instead, be prepared to strike a different line, if needed. Governments always wants to hear from organisations directly as they too appreciate the ‘limitations’ of just having a collective approach.
- Use your Parliamentary information and monitoring to ensure that you know what people are saying about you and your issues. Only when you are armed with this level of detail can you consider whether to and how to respond.
- Convey the ‘criticism’ in the right way – there may be an instinct to be clear and forceful, making demands for retraction etc. Senior executives can often push for this type of response because the comments made by the politician seem to be a slur on their approach or strategy, ie directly of them. A more personal, lower key approach is always better rather than simply ‘shouting’ through the media.
- Be prepared to push for some form of redress – not in any financial way but clarification in a future debate or even some assistance on one of your issues in the future. Do not start with the mind-set that has the politicians tagged as an ‘enemy’ or ‘opponent’. They may turn out to be your new best friend!
- Remember, status isn’t everything – no-one has to simply defer as we all have reputations to consider. That also means treating new MPs in the same manner as you would more established voices. A bad impression allowed to fester from the very outset can be hugely damaging, especially if those people go on to have bright careers. In other words, don’t dismiss anyone just because they are not important now. Politicians can often have long careers.
So don’t be afraid to defend yourself. You may be prepared for a rough ride but you can often come away pleasantly surprised by the welcome you receive. It is often a case of getting information to people at the right time. But if you are not prepared to defend yourselves then no-one else will.