Blame it on the Burqa: For Security Reasons it’s time Senator Jacqui Lambie wised up

I’ve been watching the Senator Jacqui Lambie sideshow closely since her election. Reminiscent of the ‘Please Explain’ train-wreck that was Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party: Jacqui Lambie’s penchant for courting controversy under the guise of public policy is nothing short of blatant newsjacking with a strong twist of ignorance. Whether that has been a distinct strategy or an attempt at media seduction, Jacqui Lambie is a crisis communicators nightmare.

We’ve all had clients who rage against the crisis communications advice given to them: hell bent on traveling down a path of PR destruction and brand annihilation – but Jacqui Lambie is a special kind of crisis communications train-wreck. She is click-bait incarnate and a slow-news-day pocket rocket for a news media with an insatiable appetite for scandal.

If you subscribe to the P.T. Barnum theory that ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’ (unsurprisingly, I don’t) you might think that as a newly minted politician, Jacqui Lambie’s headline grabbing antics are good for boosting her public profile and electorate popularity. In the short term, in a very niche sociodemographic – perhaps this will prove true. But over the longer term – and by longer I mean post-politics, how do you shrug off a public profile built on ignorant statements about subjects you are not conversant in; are highly controversial and are religiously offensive.

Embroiled in a controversy of her own making over the past 48 hours, Jacqui Lambie’s inability to manage neither the media nor the resulting media crisis, is fast becoming a stark example in what not to do in a media crisis. In years to come, the image she shared on Facebook will continue to rank highly on Google – along with the headline: Ban the burka photo shared by PUP senator Jaqui Lambie is of Afghan policewoman killed by the Taliban. 

Crisis Communications Jacqui Lambie Gets It Wrong

Her interview on the ABC’s Insider Program, where she is asked to articulate her understanding of Sharia Law will rank on YouTube for years to come:

And her inability to articulate a genuine understanding of public policy will become her legacy.

 

Jacqui Lambie’s responses under media scrutiny have been defensive and combative. Attempting to justify her sharing of the image on social media has only made her situation worse:

“Now we’re at war with the sharia extremists and Australia has been placed on a heightened terrorism alert – we can’t have anyone hiding their identity in public. It now becomes an important national security issue.” 

 

She even went so far as to quite incredulously presume to know the intent of, and speak on behalf of, slain Afghan Policewoman Lt Col Malalai Kakar telling the ABC

“This policewoman fought for freedom against the sharia extremists – so I would have thought part of her fight, was for the right for Afghan women not to wear a burka.” 

 

If she had done her research, a quick Google search would have uncovered a quote from Lt Col Kakar stating:

Slain Afghan Policewoman Malalai Kakar spoke about the burqa as offering her “protection” in a documentary before her death.

“I am not forced to wear the chaudari [burqa], my husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages,” she said. “I wear it to protect my family and myself.”

 

It would take a crisis communicator with the magical powers of Harry Potter to remediate Jacqui Lambie’s public profile.

If you find yourself with a client who goes rogue or you are offered the job of fixing a reputation, my top ten tips for crisis communicators are:

1. Seriously reconsider your willingness and ability to do the job. You reputation is as much on the line as your client’s – association by default, no matter how well you spin their new narrative, may actually do YOUR brand harm. Even if you polish a proverbial, it’s still … well, what it is. Acknowledge that people have to want to be helped for you to be able to work with them. If they refuse your advice or they are ambivalent about the process, walk away.

2. Establish clear rules of engagement with your client. Establish clear consequences for their non-compliance with your advice or directions. Appoint a spokesperson for your client – that is NOT them.

3. Control your client. This may involve sequestering them out of public reach, disconnecting their phones and sending their social media streams into a hiatus. Assess their need for personal security (from themselves and others). Assess their mental health and engage appropriate medical support if required.

4. Strategise. Gauge audience sentiment, look at the big data play behind social media chatter – where are your opportunities and where are your threats. Constantly monitor online chatter – you may need to review your strategy… often.

5. Develop an authentic narrative. If it’s an apology, it needs to be sincere. If it’s a rebuttal, it needs to be factually verifiable. Be mindful that going on the offensive is a risky proposition – can your client actually handle a combative media interview and the resulting backlash for not backing away from mainstream opinion?

6. Develop a plan for narrative delivery. Assess your options: media vs breaking news yourself. If you are using media, will it be a scripted affair or will questions be taken? On camera, telephone interview, photo shoot and chat?

7. Coach your client in the art of narrative delivery. Practice this over and over and over again. Review their wardrobe choices, ensure their grooming is impeccable – hire a stylist if necessary. Prepare them for any possible questions they may receive (scripted or unscripted). If your client is being medicated (or uses narcotics) an altered demeanour can translate adversely on camera, so choose your media (print, online, video) carefully.

8. Stage manage the media. Broker deals of exclusivity if they suit but DO NOT become a broker in a media bidding war. It goes without saying that paid-interviews are a bad look when trying to remediate reputations. Insist on final approval of all material before it goes to print or screen.

9. Be present during all media interactions. Control your client. Be vigilant of a journalists lines of questioning and interject to redirect the interview if it goes outside of agreed parameters.

10. De-brief. De-brief your client, the organisation, yourself. Track and analyse audience sentiment post media publication – strategise, plan and develop counter narratives or new opportunities as required.

Remediating reputations take time, concerted effort, financial backing and a genuine willingness by the client to enact change.

And as is the case with Jacqui Lambie – not all reputations can be fixed.


HT to Monika Lancucki, ABC aka @Niska7 for inspiring this blog.