This UK media statement by Ursula Lidbetter, new chair of the troubled Co-op, uses the Sympathy, Action, Inquiry formula. It also shows how it’s possible to speak confidently even when there’s not much you can say!

I think Ms Ledbitter did a good job in the circumstances. Possible legal action, several big inquiries in the offing, allegations of cronyism, incompetence and smugness, all meant there was a limit to what she could say. But she made the most of what she had, and she came across as likeable, human, competent and energetic, and above all Authentic – she wasn’t putting on an act, this was the real her, her personality crossed the footlights.

So let’s analyse what she did say.

“What I’ve committed to do and what the board has committed to do as well is to have a really root and branch review of our governance. This is very important.”

Most people wouldn’t know what “governance” is. It would have been better to say something like “the way we manage the business isn’t very efficient, and we’re going to streamline it”. Saying that something is important in a media interview is a very good tactic. People are more likely to remember it, and the journalist is more likely to use that part of the interview in a bulletin clip.

“We have great executives who are looking at our businesses, who are going to take those businesses forward.”

Well, presumably most of them have been there the whole time, so this doesn’t mean very much, but it’s an effective way of playing the Action card – “this is the action we’re taking to fix the crisis”.

“What we need to do as a board and as a membership of seven million people…”

Impressive fact to get in!

“…is to look at the way our governance is structured.

Repetition is not a bad thing in a media interview.  The audience are not necessarily concentrating with their full attention, and they normally only get one chance to hear each element.

“It’s very important that we have the voice of the members within our organisation, that’s what cooperatives are all about…”

A nod, I suspect, to those of the members who currently feel ignored.

“…but as we are a very substantial organisation, that we make sure that we have the right people who can take the organisation forward, express the views of the members, and really support our excellent new management in where we want to go next.”

All good stuff. Not much substance, but reassuring. Media interviews work with logic and emotion, so a certain amount of mood music along with the facts is to be encouraged.

“The question of Mr Flowers is now taken out of our hands. There will be a thorough review, we will be undertaking an internal review as well and we need that to complete, but it’s not something I can comment on today.”

The Inquiry element of the ‘sail’ formula is there to answer the obvious questions about whose fault the crisis was, and how we can be sure it won’t happen again. Sometimes an ‘Inquiry’ can be informal – a case of asking witnesses what happened. In Mr Flowers’ case the police are involved and there may also be  judicial or parliamentary inquiries. So it’s perfectly OK to explain that you are unable to say much. After a person is arrested, the ‘sub judice’ rule means it is contempt of court to comment on the case as you may prejudice the outcome. A tip, though – don’t use the words “no comment” as they always sound as if you have something to hide.

“It is hugely sad, for our members and for our communities and for all of our staff, to see the Coop on the front pages for the wrong reasons.”

Very human. Conveys the Sympathy element.

“But what has struck me over the last months, and most recently in the last few weeks, is how much goodwill there is towards the Cooperative group and the Cooperative movement…”

Excellent.  More than a business, a movement with ethical values.

“…and how much will there is within the population and our membership to see us succeed.”

“Population” and “membership” are a bit “old Labour”.  It would be better to say “people really want us to succeed.”

“There is a real will that we should get this right, that we should improve our structures, that we should get our businesses moving and that we should serve the very real purpose that we have in society.”

A stirring ending!  Cry God for Harry, England and St George…