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Is it bad to not be on TV news during a crisis?

The issue: Any serious political leader needs to be visible, especially during moments of national crisis, and in large part that still means appearing on TV News.

Why it's important: The public expects leaders of even relatively small political parties to 'make the effort' to talk to the nation about an important national issue, especially during a crisis. If a leader is not seen, then he or she risks being regarded as unimportant or worse, that he or she simply doesn't care enough. This can led to real anger directed at them and a possible reduction in support for their party.

Evidence: We conducted focus group research sessions during yesterday's leadership challenge to British PM Theresa May. She finished the day winning the vote of her Conservative MPs, but the UK could have ended up needing a new Prime Minister and the whole Brexit process is still in turmoil.

Some of the views expressed by a range of ordinary voters during these sessions were directed at Vince Cable, the leader of the UK's Liberal Democrat Party.

The Liberal Democrats will have been pushing out their messages through social media and other means, but Vince Cable did not appear on the national TV news programmes yesterday. The comments from voters therefore included:

"Where is Vince Cable?"

"Why aren't the Lib Dems saying something?"

"Do the Liberal Democrats not care about the terrible state we are in?"

Alternative views: TV news in the UK featured interviews with dozens of MPs. Members of the cabinet and the shadow-cabinet were sent out to the TV studios and camera crews surrounding the Westminster parliament building.

The Liberal Democrat leader was not among them. This may be because some party media managers argue that putting a party leader alongside lower-ranking MPs would reduce their leader's stature. Others may want to hold-fire and simply limit the number of times they offer their leader to the TV news, thinking that a level of unavailability will make them more 'special'.

Conclusion: These arguments miss the point that by not appearing on TV news during a national crisis, they seriously risk demotivating their current supporters and alienating the wider electorate.

Insight: I have worked in national media operations for political parties, and their teams have always worked very hard, sending out lots of press releases, tweets and emails, but on big occasions, a leader simply needs to make him or herself available for the big TV news outlets and their people need to push hard and smart to arrange the interviews.

What's next: Moments of national crisis can happen anywhere. In the coming weeks, in Europe Brexit continues to trouble the UK and France is dealing with riots and a terrorist killer on the run. In Africa, the DRC faces a growing problem with Ebola and even in Guinea-Bissau there are major worries about democracy being put on hold. Canada is dealing with more of its citizens being detained by the Chinese regime and the US is facing a possible shut-down in its government.

Take action: Wherever you are in the world, even if you are a relatively small party, you need to make sure your leader gets onto the national TV news, especially at a time of crisis. At Stratagem Global we can provide you with the strategies, training or people to help you achieve this, so contact us if you need help.

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