What can media spokespeople learn from the Brexit debate, which has led to unprecedented levels of claim and counter-claim by our leading politicians, with statistics (and bogus statistics) being liberally sprayed around by both sides? The closer you look, the harder it is to believe any of them; there is almost always ‘more to it than that’. A good example is the Brexiteers’ claim that ‘The EU costs us £350m per week’ – true on one level, but it ignores the big payback we get from Community funds, making the net contribution a lot lower, so the real figure is more like £160m per week.
Meanwhile ‘Remainians’ have quoted plenty of figures of their own, such as the report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research which suggests that measure to deepen the European single market alone will add 3.4% to the output of London’s economy by 2030. As has been pointed out by the London School of Economics, this precise-sounding ‘fact’, as its authors admit, is based on a whole raft of assumptions which are highly unlikely to survive contact with the real world.
The net result of all this is that the public becomes increasingly confused, and, not knowing who to believe, buries its head in the sand and attempts to ignore the whole thing.
For anyone appearing in the media, it’s a good reminder of the fact that a strong statistic can give powerful backing to any argument you want to make. Ensure you have some key facts to back up your case, otherwise the arguments will probably sound extremely woolly. But don’t overdo the use of statistics, otherwise they can become self-defeating. In our media training courses we always advise company spokespeople to be very sparing with their use – ‘give a journalist one powerful statistic and they’ll probably remember it and want to use it, give them half a dozen and they’ll end up confused and probably get it wrong’. Much better for a media spokesperson to have one killer, incontrovertible fact, (not a potentially misleading one) which they ram home – backed up by lots of examples, which help people relate your point to what they can see going on around them in the real world. This way you are much more likely to convince the average person.