Theresa May needs a new media strategy

Theresa May should eschew traditional media and instead use her own platforms to speak directly to the public if she is to improve her current image, a leading PR consultant has suggested.

Howard Kosky, chief executive of Markettiers, believes that the Prime Minister is ‘currently relying on the media to host her commentary’ when ‘the media is not on her side’.

His advice follows criticism of May on her visit to Grenfell Tower, when she spoke to the emergency services but did not meet any residents or bereaved relatives, in contrast to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who mingled with the community and was captured hugging distressed people.

Kosky believes the media ‘turned on her’ after the election results when ‘they realised they had misread the mood and the swell of interest among the youth in the Labour party’.

‘In broadcast, the biggest skills and quality of an editor are to present something in a certain way. I read that Theresa May had welled up on her visit but no media owner tried to capture that,’ he explains. ‘She could self-publish in a blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and capture that human element. Theresa May is a good human being with good values but she is currently relying on the media to host her commentary.’

Media trainer Nick Fitzherbert adds: ‘She was not seen to be shedding tears and you do need to be seen to be addressing all the issues on people’s minds. I say to clients ‘Let a little light shine in on yourself and the audience will warm to you, then everything you say will sound more convincing because it is coming from someone they feel they know and can trust’.’

Andrew Caesar-Gordon, founder of Electric Airwaves, advises: ‘A strategy that can work well for shy people is to take the attention off yourself by asking questions of people and listening deeply to their stories. This would have worked well at Grenfell Tower in the context of a ‘private visit’.’

Even professional media trainers believe that May has been ‘too media trained’ for her television interviews, which means that while she has stuck to her messages, she has failed to answer questions appropriately. ‘Undo the media training, especially at times like Grenfell Tower,’ says Fitzherbert. ‘She looks too manufactured,’ says Kosky.

‘Not dealing with the question first can backfire on the interviewee big-time, especially if the interviewer’s question contains damaging or negative language that the interviewee lets pass undamaged,’ says Graham Leach, founder of Harvey Leach.

Leach believes that advice given to politicians ‘often turns them into robots, resulting in a complete lack of communication with the public’.

But May is not a natural communicator or given to demonstrations of emotion, a point she made at the start of her premiership when she said that that she wasn’t showy and didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. Caesar-Gordon describes her as ‘a classic Myers-Briggs introvert’, adding: ‘While she has developed strategies to cope with the demands of being a politician, she has yet to develop strategies too cope with the demands of being Prime Minister.’

‘She may be working very hard and effectively behind the closed doors of No.10 but at the moment she is so short of ‘PR credit’ that it is too easy for her enemies to perpetuate all the bad vibes,’ says Fitzherbert. ‘Just look at what the Queen, with plenty of PR credit, ‘achieved’ just by turning up.’

He advises: ‘Do some unexpected things that counter the ‘play it safe’ image for which she is known. She did a few of those early on in her premiership and it carved out a new reputation for her. It would be a mistake to retreat now she is vulnerable.’

Kosky believes that, with good advice from her strategic advisers, May should ‘have a finger on the pulse’ and use that insight to shape her narrative and ‘broadcast direct to capture her natural characteristics’. ‘She did an incredible speech when she was elected leader, what has happened between then and now?’

He believes May could learn from Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, ‘who wears her heart on her sleeve, and is viewed as authentic’. But Kosky adds: ‘How many new CEOs end up with a crisis in their first year and know how to deal brilliantly with the media?’