The Elysée’s denials
One core rule in sensitive and crisis communication is to avoid putting oneself in a position where one could be proved wrong or even worst, to acknowledge one’s fault. Very often, successive truths are found to be the most efficient way to transform a sensitive topic into a real case, to use a journalistic phrase, as already mentioned in Chapter 7 of “Affaire de com’ “ published by Odile Jacob late 2011.
Acknowledging his fault, that’s what Jean-Pierre Jouvet did. After he said on Thursday that the “UMP files” have never been mentioned during his lunch with François Fillon, on Sunday, he admitted in a press statement read to the French press agency AFP that François Fillon “had expressed major concern regarding the Bygmalion’s case” and “had also raised the issue of the regular payment by the UMP of the penalties related to the expenditure overruns during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign”.
Since then Jean Pierre Jouyet found himself caught up in a storm, as highlighted by the title of another AFP dispatch. Even worst, an increasing number of commentators are questioning whether he will be able to keep his functions at the Elysée.
It is by no means clear whether light will one day be shed on what has really been said during this lunch organized by Antoine Gosset-Grainville, former colleague of François Fillon and later on of Jean-Pierre Jouvet. However, we can retrospectively think about what we would have advised the later to say if he had come to us last Thursday before he has made his first statement.
We would have suggested him to issue a written communiqué based only on facts to:
- confirm that he indeed had lunch with the former prime minister, specifying exactly the venue, time, guests….
- solemnly state that neither before nor after the lunch, the Elysée has interfered with the justice about the investigations involving the UMP (or any other political parties) and that the Presidency intends to keep this course of action in the future.
In short, putting matters in context and have people understand that there is no big deal. Then stick tirelessly to these hardly questionable statements, backed up by sufficiently verifiable evidence, and direct all inquiries towards this unique press release while keeping to its content.
This reaction would have helped to avoid being caught in the downward spiral of successive truths, with new revelations – as highlighted by Le Monde’s headline on the Saturday afternoon- therefore reviving media interest and, step by step, undermining the credibility of the person concerned. This is what journalists and crisis communication responsibles, for once reaching an agreement, unanimously call “series making”.
After he corrected the record on Sunday, Jean-Pierre Jouvet should now stick to the new explanation, and only hope that other topics will come along to put this so-called “State-affair” on the back burner and bury what could have been nothing more than just a tempest in a teapot with a better communication strategy.
Media crisis are as violent as short, should last no longer than 72 hours in general according to specialists. Provided it is not self-induced.