It’s a big day for the British Prime Minister, becoming the first world leader to meet newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump. The cream of the British and American media will be there to record the moment and ask questions, so May’s team will have worked closely with Trump’s team to create what they hope will be iconic, impressive images captured for posterity…and to be repeated in news reports for years to come. Except with a maverick installed at the White House, it might not be that straightforward.
Meetings like these are always choreographed down to the minutest detail, from where each head of state will stand or sit, to when they’ll shake hands for the camera and even a limit on questions from reporters, with no opportunity for a ‘difficult’ journalist to challenge the answer to their question. All this is deliberately designed to minimise the risk of a much valued, prepped meeting in the media spotlight going wrong. Essential, because the body language just as much as what each world leader says will be analysed and pored over incessantly across print, radio, TV and social media.
Donald Trump is highly unpredictable and speaks his mind, for which he is both adored and reviled. So, Theresa May’s media advisors will not have done their job properly if they haven’t brainstormed, rehearsed and planned how to react to any awkward moments. Mr Trump’s relationship with the media is extremely strained, so an uncomfortable exchange is certainly possible and Mrs May will want to avoid getting involved in controversial issues, such as building a wall between the US and Mexico or banning immigrants from countries with large Muslim populations. Given Britain’s decision to choose Brexit, she may also face tough questions from both British and American journalists.
The fact is, the British Prime Minister can’t control what might happen but needs to be able to successfully navigate any potentially tricky moments. So, what should Theresa May’s media advisors be telling her ahead of being photographed and filmed in the Oval Office? The same things any spokesperson is taught during journalist-led media training about preparing for potentially hostile interviews.
Here are my top three:
- Remain calm and dignified, no matter what!
- Don’t display anger, or even mild irritation, at unwelcome questions as this only reflects badly on you
- Address the thorny issue briefly and pivot back to your message (The Special Relationship between US and UK) as soon as possible