There are two ways to look at this video of British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband answering (and I use the term loosely) some questions about the recent one-day strike by public employees in Great Britain.
On the one hand, it’s clear that Miliband knows exactly what he wants to say about the strike, which implies the kind of forethought that is a prerequisite for effective messaging. And in Miliband’s defense, this was a pool interview, and his answers were never meant to be seen strung together like this. By using the same words over and over again, he ensured that whatever snippet the BBC, ITV or Sky News chose to show, their viewers would all get the same answer. That’s smart, and gives him control over his message in a format where the clip shown is often chosen precisely because it’s where the interviewee went off message.
On the other hand, this is message discipline run amuck– you can stay on message and get your point across without using the exact same words over and over again, as Miliband does here to comedic effect. When you see the whole interview, as in this clip, he comes across as programmed, pedantic, and insincere– certainly not the impression he and his team wanted to convey. Reporter Damon Green has a great response explaining what this kind of message discipline feels like from the other side of the camera.
So: points for forethought and discipline, demerits for sounding programmed. Next time, Miliband should try to vary the phrases he uses, offer more direct responses to the questions posed, and try for more natural sounding transitions back to his talking points. That’s what truly effective message discipline looks like.
Heath Wickline is a raconteur at LightBox Collaborative. He can next be seen instilling message discipline at the SPIN Academy.