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Enda Kenny and Fine Gael came into Government riding on a wave of popularity, promising that they would be different to Fianna Fail and restore Ireland’s economic fortunes. While the economy has begun to turn the corner since 2011, Fine Gael’s popularity has begun to sink ever since. Initially the party benefited from the lack of credible alternatives, but a succession of tough budgets and mini political crises has seen their popularity plunge as low as 21% (depending on which political poll you believe.)

So what is Fine Gael to do? A recent article about Pope Francis in the Economist caught my eye in this regard. The article positions the pope as a turnaround CEO in charge of a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce. Swap the terms “crisis-ridden company” and “workforce” with “economy in the doldrums” and “electorate” and there’s not much difference between the Catholic Church and Ireland in many respects.

In contrast to Enda Kenny, the Pope has managed to regalvanise the Catholic Church and the main reason for this as the article points out is that “Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor.” The Church had been rocked by a number of scandals in recent years and was increasingly looking out of touch, but through a simple repositioning, Francis now looks like a man of the people, despite the fact that the Church’s view on a number of areas like abortion, women’s role in the Church and gay marriage still put it at odds with a number of people.

Enda Kenny should take note of Pope Francis’ success in changing perceptions and commentary about the church. Some of Fine Gael’s decline was inevitable as they had to deliver some tough cutbacks whilst reining in Government spending, but a certain degree has been their own doing as they have failed to deliver genuine political reform, despite a clear desire from the general public for a different kind of politics as highlighted by Fianna Fail’s stagnant poll numbers and the increasing popularity of the independents. People are fed up with the current political system, but don’t seem to see much choice available in terms of credible alternatives. Is it any surprise that we’re now seeing the same low levels of trust in the political system as before the last general election?

While Ireland’s economic bounceback remains heavily dependent on the global economy, Kenny has far greater control in terms of political reform. Imagine he followed Francis’ lead in terms of shunning some of the luxuries associated with his role – the Economist reports that the pope “swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.” If Kenny decided not to claim any expenses for example, it would be met by a positive public reaction.

Obviously delivering political reform is not as easy as it sounds as the failed Seanad referendum showed; in some ways it’s like getting turkeys to vote for Christmas. Real leaders, however, lead by example and they have to bring people on a journey. Setting out a roadmap and timeline for political reform, even if it consists of populist moves like foregoing expenses, would go some way to getting people to accept some of the cutbacks that are inevitable as part of the recession. Various sectors are reluctant to reform if the people asking them to deliver change don’t seem to be incurring any pain themselves.

Irish Media Movement

Emma Kennedy has been appointed as the new editor of the Money Plus section in the Sunday Business Post.

Richard Curran has been unveiled as the new host of RTE’s The Business following George Lee’s appointment as agriculture and environment correspondent in RTE.

Jill Kerby’s personal finance column in the Sunday Times has finished up.

The Irish Examiner has appointed Mary Regan as political editor, John Walsh as business editor and Michael Clifford as special correspondent.

Joe Humphries has been appointed as education correspondent in the Irish Times.

I spotted the image below on So Bad, So Good yesterday.  In my view, it sums up the newspaper industry’s woes quite simply in terms of consumers being able to access a range of content for free from their pocket.

Newspaper Woes

After seeing the image, I couldn’t help but remember Gerard Cunningham’s tweet from earlier in the day about the sad news announced by Landmark Media about voluntary redundancies at the Irish Examiner and its other regional titles.


There was a bit of car crash radio on RTE a couple of weeks ago as Gerry Byrne and Declan Waugh were on Today With Sean O’Rourke, with Keelin Shanley standing in as presenter, to discuss fluoridation in Ireland.   As part of the interview, Declan Waugh made the claim that fluoride was a factor in Down Syndrome levels in Ireland.  Shanley immediately asked him to cite the research which supported this claim, which Waugh was unable to do and was admonished by the presenter for making such a claim on national radio without the evidence to back it up.

The anti-flouride lobby has made giant strides in making their cause a national issue, which frankly I’m amazed by considering all the scientific evidence which supports fluoridation.  When it comes to science, however, media have been found quite wanting on a range of topics, whether its fluoridation or climate change due to succumbing to ‘false balance’ and giving opinions and scientific fact the same weight (this damning report – pdf – on the BBC’s coverage on climate change is well worth a read.)

Waugh could have at least made the claim, however, if he imply was able to reference the research he based his claim on.  Whether it was a slip of the mind or simply a case of never being challenged by a journalist in the past, he floundered and rightly came in for criticism from Shanley.  This single moment completely undermined him and he lost all credibility to the listener.  So it just goes to show that if you want to position yourself as an expert, make sure you know your facts when you’re asked for them.

I was listening to NewsTalk’s Down To Business last Saturday as the show’s host, Bobby Kerr, interviewed Wayne Byrne from Oxymem, winners of the 2014 Innovation of the Year at the Irish Times & InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards (you can listen to the interview here about 22 minutes in.)  Oxymem produce a piece of technology – a bubbleless aeration solution – for wastewater treatment, which isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around particularly on a Saturday morning.

As Wayne tried to explain what his company does to listeners, Bobby quickly jumped in with this classic line – “With all these things, I try to summarise them into one sentence and with your concept what I did was – it saves energy when it breaks down sewage.”

Simple and straight to the point.  Exactly what you need when you’ve got a limited amount of time to explain what you or your product do.

We should all ask ourselves the question, can I explain what I do for a living in one sentence.  The best audience to test your answer on is your mother, because if she understands then you know you’re on the right track.

First impressions count, particularly in broadcast interviews as if you lose your audience from the outset, then they are likely to drift off and not pay attention to what you are saying.  Bobby played a blinder as the host by giving context to the audience for what Wayne’s product does, instantly making the interview more accessible.

So next time you are preparing for an interview, it’s worth bearing Bobby’s advice in mind and making sure you can explain what you do in one sentence.

Duncan Stewart’s interview on NewsTalk’s Breakfast Show this morning was one of those media performances where you’re left cringing (the full interview can be listened to on this link.) Stewart was on the show to discuss climate change and how media cover the topic in terms of the issues around false balance, something which I am in full agreement with Stewart about. Obviously very passionate about the topic, Stewart felt that the host, Shane Coleman, wasn’t giving him the platform to make his point and then threatened to walk out of the interview, eventually come out with a line that will be rolled out in media training seminars for years – ‘Give me 10 minutes or I’m not staying.’

What’s disappointing about Stewart’s initial outburst is that it lasts about ninety seconds (there is another heated debate towards the end of the interview between Stewart and Coleman’s co-host later), but it is the main focus of subsequent media coverage, deflecting focus from the discussion on climate change – the very issue Stewart was on to discuss!

From a media training perspective, Stewart broke one of the cardinal rules by becoming aggressive with the presenters. While the likes of Jeremy Paxman or Vincent Browne tearing strips off their guests may make for great entertainment, the reverse is rarely the case with listeners forming a poor impression of the interviewee.

The apparent confusion about the interview length is also something worth noting in terms of what your PR representative should establish before an interview. Interviewees should be clear on details like approximately how long the segment will take, who is interviewing them and whether there is anyone else being interviewed as part of the same segment.

Duncan Stewart does a great job to promote environmental issues, but this interview just goes to show that sometimes our passion can get the better of us. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Irish Media News

Independent Newspapers has signed on as official partner to FAI. As part of the arrangement, will get exclusive interviews and news from the FAI. It’ll be interesting to see what INM’s rivals will make of the partnership.

Phantom FM is no more and will be rebranded as TXFM, in a move which is meant to closely align the station with its stable mate Today FM. Although the news is disappointing, the station’s following had dwindled and had come in for some fair criticism – Jim Carroll has a good synopsis of Phantom’s decline.

The latest circulation figures for Irish print media revealed another bloodbath as sales continued to decline. The one exception, however, is the Irish Farmers Journal, which has actually grown by 5% since 2006. Its success highlights how a specialist product which isn’t given away for free can go from strength to strength commercially. One aspect of the Journal’s success which hasn’t attracted much attention has been the strength of its YouTube channel, with views for videos of farm machinery highlighting that there’s an untapped audience yet to be exploited.

There’s a new business radio show on NewsTalk, with The Currency airing for ten weeks on Sunday’s between 6-7pm, focusing on international business news.

Irish Media Movement

Vincent Boland is the new Ireland correspondent for the Financial Times, after Jamie Smyth moved to become Australia and Pacific correspondent.

Michael O’Kane and Catherine Farrell are the new programme editors for RTE Radio 1 Morning Ireland.

Sean MacCeartaigh has left the Irish Examiner to join the production team of TV3′s Tonight With Vincent Browne.

Cystic Fibrosis campaigner and journalist Orla Tinsley has joined the team and will write a weekly column every Monday.

Edelman Ireland 2014 Trust Barometer

Another year, another launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Despite being around for approximately seventeen years now, the research never fails to spark interest and this year was no different. The 2014 findings were quite striking for me, primarily if you compare the results to previous years as they show that the great hope the Irish public had for change around the last general election has dissipated and levels of trust are around the same levels as 2011 (click the image for an enlarged view.)

Trust in Institutions

The other striking result is the clear lack in trust by the public in politicians and business leaders across a range of actions, highlighting an embedded skepticism in society (click the image for an enlarged view.)

Leadership - A crisis of trust

The launch event itself was quite stimulating with a thought provoking address from Dr Tom Clonan, who recounted his experience of serving in the Irish army in Lebanon, later as a whistleblower revealing the systematic sexual harassment of Irish women soldiers, and more recently his experience as a father of a disabled child.

Clonan’s account highlighted that we don’t do transparency well in Ireland and here is a clear need for reform across a variety of institutions in the country. He highlighted the lack of diversity in a range of areas in terms of political representation and media commentators. The same accusation could equally be made of the business world.

So where do we go from here? My colleague and Edelman Ireland chairman Jim Glennon summed it up best when he wrapped up the event with his comment – ‘You always learn a lot more from a defeat then you do from a victory.

We’ve essentially been through the wars in Ireland in terms of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The crisis at the Central Remedial Clinic is just the latest in a series of scandals that has rocked the public conscious.

We essentially need to create a culture of transparency in order to rebuild trust in institutions. Tom Cloonan only had to point out the commentary around the Garda whistleblowers who presented to the Public Accounts Committee last week which shows that we still do not have an environment where whistleblowers can feel comfortable to come forward. A lot of work obviously still needs to be done if we hope to achieve this.

While there is clearly a link between economic performance and levels of trust, the positive signs around the Irish economy should not mean that we forego the continual self-examination to ensure we have learned from the mistakes of the past and also make sure that we put a system of accountability in place. As one of the panelists at the event, Simon Harris TD, said at the launch, “We don’t need a return to blind trust, we need a society that always probes.

The spotlight on the Irish charity sector at the moment offers a unique insight in terms of the challenges and opportunities organisations in the space face. Clearly a lack of transparency on executive pay and poor governance by a handful of organisations has had a huge impact on the whole sector. As a result there is a requirement for executives involved in the running of charities to proactively communicate how they operate and demonstrate the results they are achieving.

There is also a requirement, however, for the public to also educate themselves better. Simon Harris made a good point about an exam he sat in school where he was asked what Mary Harney’s position in cabinet was at the time. Apart from having to know her title, there was no requirement for actually understanding what her role involved.

The danger of an unengaged public is that it sweeps through society. Dr Cloonan underlined this when he made a point about the lack of interrogation in the media about the era of austerity. Just as we didn’t question the fundamentals of the boom, we’re making the same mistakes again. One of the primary reasons for this is the lack of diversity in our political representation and in the media.

I’m reminded of an article on the New Statesman website about how the majority of media commentators are white men aged 50+ and the negative effect that has on discourse in society. I’ve highlighted a key quote from the piece below.

…for the time being the ancient kings still rule. The old make the news for the old, and politicians watch and obsess as if the images flickering across their screens are somehow relevant to the hopes, dreams and fears of the population they so dismally fail to represent.

The full research deck for the Edelman Ireland 2014 Trust Barometer can new viewed below. More commentary is available on the Edelman website.

Stuff That Caught My Attention #25

A couple of PR stunts that caught my attention before the end of the year.  Obviously enough they are mostly Christmas related.

The UK video game retailer GAME was quite busy trying to stay top of mind with consumers.  The stunt which grabbed most publicity was their Christmas dinner in a can.  Their tongue in cheek product aimed to cater for gamers who were too hooked on Christmas presents to tear themselves away for their dinner.  The all-in-one Christmas dinner consisted of nine layers including turkey and potatoes, scrambled eggs and bacon, and mince pie.  Not particularly appealing, but it generated wall-to-wall coverage.

GAME followed that up by hiring a nine year old as a Non Executive Director of GAME Junior to “give clueless parents advice on what games to get their children this Christmas.”

PUMA’s personalised boots to announce their sponsorship of Mario Balotelli was inspired.

A number of UK shopping malls brought in lie detectors to see if the children that came to visit Santa really had been naughty or nice.

Hats off to Waterstones who turned around this riposte to Amazon’s drone delivery announcement, which was made the night before.

Piaras Kelly
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