UKIP whips up a PR storm

This is an article by Brad Grant.
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Brad Grant

If you take an interest in current affairs, you’ll know that recently UKIP was the centre of press attention – particularly focusing on one individual, the party’s new leader, Paul Nuttall.

Just like we have recently witnessed with the Oscars mishap, PR once again made itself known to the public.

For those asking what a PR person does, you’re able to point them to two prime and recent examples.

Great, isn’t it? For us as students, yes, but for the professionals, not so much.

Described by the CIPR as a ‘PR Storm’ Paul Nuttall demonstrated what not to do when facing a PR crisis.

The events in a nutshell

  • On his website, Paul Nuttall called for inquiry files relating to the Hillsborough to be published stating he lost “close” and “personal friends” at the disaster.
  • In an interview with Liverpool’s Radio City, Nuttall denied writing the statement, insisting he did not know who had written the post advising he lost someone who he knows, but hasn’t “lost a close, personal friend.”
  • Following the radio interview the statement from his website was removed.
  • Families of Hillsborough victims reacted with dismay at these actions, describing his admission as “insulting” and “appalling.”
  • Paul Nuttall later issued a press statement to say that although he takes responsibility for what was published on his website, he was “appalled” and did not see the post “prior to being posted” by a member of his staff.
  • That staff member was later named as his press officer, Lynda Roughley, who took responsibility and offered to resign. Paul Nuttall rejected this offer, stating it was a “minor error” and did not want to see someone lose their career.
  • Paul Nuttall’s website was later taken down.
  • Two Ukip chairmen resign in protest, stating Nuttall was “crass” and “insensitive.”
  • Days later, Nuttall gave a three-hour Hillsborough witness statement, advising he won’t allow a “coordinated, cruel, and almost evil smear campaign” amid claims he was not at the Hillsborough disaster, to break him or Ukip.
  • A week after the events, Nuttall loses Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.

What did we learn from this?

  • The first thing is first, if someone is managing your website, always make sure you have approved what is being posted. CIPR President Jason MacKenzie said that it’s not “credible” for anyone, “least of all a politician, to say that they don’t check communications that are published in their name by their own press officers”. He went on to say that blame shifting and obfuscation is “always unacceptable.”
  • Take responsibility. As Jason MacKenzie mentions, it’s not OK to blame-shift. If you’re to blame, take full responsibility and do it correctly. Nuttall initially stated he took responsibility, but showed this how? In this incident, Nuttall allowed his press officer to make a statement and allowed her to offer her resignation,  which he later rejected. Director General of PRCA, Frances Ingham, stated whilst it was “shockingly unethical” to make false claims about such an event, Nuttall had allowed his press officer to be thrown under the bus, stating “responsibility ultimately rests with Nuttall.”
  • Deal with the matter with sensitivity. Speaking to Radio 5 Live Breakfast, Nuttall said: “It’s not as if I’ve taken illegally from the public purse. It’s not as if I’ve said something racist. It’s not as if I have sent people to war.” If we compare this with William Benoit’s image restoration theory, Nuttall here is evading responsibility and is attempting to reduce offensiveness, both of which are not appropriate. Arguably, categories of Benoit’s theory, such as corrective action should have been used, with Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson calling for the Ukip leader to resign, and mortification should have also been used.
  • Communicate well and effectively. This is not the first time Nuttall has faced claims he has lied. Previous claims that he has a PhD were incorrect, as were those about him being a professional footballer for Tranmere Rovers. In the PhD incident, which was stated on a LinkedIn page, Nuttall reportedly advised that the page had nothing to do with him, also stating he never claimed to be a professional footballer, blaming the press officer for a misunderstanding.

What do you think of how Paul Nuttall communicated? It’d be great to here what you think, providing the dog hasn’t eaten your internet cable.

Brad Grant (@abradlife) is a second year student studying Public Relations with Politics at Edge Hill University.

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