PR Week: PROs criticise Gordon Brown's 'bigot' slur apology
Brown was caught on microphone describing a voter he had just spoken to in Rochdale as a ‘bigoted woman'. After the excerpt was played back to him in a radio interview, Brown drove to Gillian Duffy's house to personally apologise.
While InHouse PR director Jo Tanner conceded apologising in person was the ‘right move', she said the PM failed to look apologetic in his subsequent media interviews.
‘Anyone media training a senior figure in corporate communications knows you have to look sorry when you say sorry. The failure of the PM to strike the right tone just makes this looks like a stunt to the public rather than a genuine feeling of regret.'
Regester Larkin director Andrew Fairburn referred to the incident as ‘a big, slow motion train crash'.
He agreed with Tanner that Brown was right to give a full, unqualified apology. But he added: ‘Brown has got to counter the negative perceptions by actions, not just his words. By his actions over the next few days, he's got to show he understands people's concerns over the deficit, immigration and other sensitive subjects. Following today's incident, he needs to "get out there" more, not less.'
Calacus PR director David Alexander also added that Brown had made a mistake in criticising the media for broadcasting his private discussion.
He argued: ‘Brown spoke on BBC radio about the fact that the media shouldn't have broadcast a private conversation, particularly as making an appearance was to satisfy media interest. That may be the case, but elections are as much about personality as about policy these days and in this world of 24-hour media, Brown has to accept that the media will always want interviews with him while he is campaigning or in power. Criticising the media only ever leads to one thing - the media biting back. Just ask Heather Mills.'
Porter Novelli head of issues and crisis Neil Bayley warned that the media would be looking at the other two party leaders for similar gaffes in the next week.
‘In these politically correct times, the media should be equally scrutinising Nick Clegg and David Cameron. The leaders should be extra careful. Brown's mistake reflects public sentiment, that while he is thought to be intelligent, he is not the polished leader that the public expects.'
Fairburn added that Brown now needed to move the media agenda on to a new issue and forget what has happened.