We all know the value of words; you wouldn't be reading this blog if you didn't. 

So, pause for a moment and spare a thought for the PR people at iconic train maker Bombardier. The company has recently secured an order from Crossrail worth £1bn pounds.

By Richard Stone

Bombardier did an exemplary PR job of making sure their messaging was consistent and positive throughout. They also had ringing endorsements of their work from a range of stakeholders including the likes of business secretary Vince Cable.

However, they also had Derby North MP Chris Williamson, who said the following to Sky News:

“Derby has got a long, proud tradition, dating back 175 years, of building trains in the city and what this represents is a long term investment in the region that will now enable Bombardier to bid for further contracts.

“They’ve been ticking over since the Thameslink decision, with some smaller contracts and frankly, had this deal not gone Bombardier’s way, there was a very real concern that they would pull out of Derby and effectively pull out of the UK altogether. And that would mean the end of British train manufacturing.”

The quotes were sewn together by the BBC and sounded even more negative on Radio 5 and Radio 2.
Having been on the receiving end of public figures offering negative comment about a story, I can only sympathise with the team at Bombardier, who I know to be extremely skilled and professional.

So, what should Mr Williamson have done, in order to stop himself accidentally souring a hugely positive story? Here are my top tips:

1. Never, ever answer a leading question with a genuine answer.
The media love to ask questions like, “Had this not gone well, it could have led to Bombardier pulling out of the UK couldn’t it?”

Prepare for these kinds of questions and, when they come, answer with a pre-planned sound bite. Otherwise, parts of your answer will be played out of context.

2. Prepare three points of refuge for answering negative questions.
Choose your three key messages and answer all questions using them and only them. In this case I would have gone with, ‘proud heritage’, ‘positive social and business impact’ and ‘340 new jobs’. There’s no need to talk about the fact that Bombardier didn't win the Thameslink contract.

3. Diffuse any conflict or scandal
Conflict and scandal are two of the five key themes on which PR people and media folk base news. As a result, journalists will always be looking for some conflict or scandal to build into a piece. But Bombardier’s story would still have been national news without these elements to it. So, avoid them like the plague and try and keep the story as boring as possible.

In summary, think about the value of words. Remember they don’t have to be broadcast in the order you say them and, crucially, the media doesn’t have to use every word you say; they can just pick out the negative bits.

If you do that, you might be able to avoid turning a success into a crisis.

Image courtesy of  Ambro on

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