Tomorrow, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, debuts on London’s LBC radio station alongside presenter Nick Ferrari to take 30 minutes of calls from the station’s listeners.
Is this a public relations masterstroke, or a communications catastrophe in the making?
Time will tell. But it’s an interesting move on many levels.
At 9am on a Thursday, let’s be frank, the vast majority of the voting population will be at work and won’t hear how he tackles listeners questions and issues. So, unless as an audience we choose to select this for our podcast listening, we won’t necessarily hear him first hand. This means most people will only get an impression of his performance if he messes up and a resulting clip is shared endlessly online and repeated on other news stations at peak listening times. Is that how he wants opinions of him to be shaped? In this digital age he needs to be wary of what people can do with clips. His apology speech last year for breaking his promise not to raise university fees became a You Tube sensation when cleverly edited, voice sampled and set to music.
London is the capital and a vast audience in itself. But equally the majority of the country is unlikely to ever hear his views and performance, let alone contribute. They probably don’t even know he is committing to this show, although it was featured in national news media. LBC broadcast online, through Digital TV and have some Digital Radio coverage (see website), but listening figures through these mediums will be small in comparison. Generally speaking this exercise means he misses out on a chance to communicate with huge swathes of the country.
Let’s also hope he has practised his media training with vigour. The unpredictable nature of a live show means he is liable to face a complex array of questions. His credibility and performance will be marked by how he deals with individual callers who have very specific issues of great importance to them which are not mainstream issues like unemployment or benefits. Can he offer insight and opinion on specific issues without glibly trotting out high-level catch-all phrases that we are used to hearing delivered by politicians on issues like the economy, policing, taxation etc.?
Call Clegg is a risky strategy. But let’s also give him enormous credit and recognise the upside too. Ahead of all his contemporaries in his own party and the opposition, this gives Nick Clegg a tremendous platform to build his profile in the eye of the public. The media of course will say, rebuild. Politicians appear on one-off shows for interviews, but no one else is committing to a weekly phone-in.
Like a CEO who hosts ‘open mic’ type events with staff, or invites free-to-view Intranet question and answer sessions between themselves and their staff, Nick Clegg is putting himself in the firing line to field questions and opinion on any number of issues. That takes courage and some skill in how to respond.
If he can show empathy and an ability to relate to very personal issues, he has a real chance of building popular opinion in his status as a politician. The clever bit will be the way his support team recycle these ‘best bits’ so that the wider populace get to hear or read about them, and in turn have their opinions shaped on his insight and personality.