12 June 2024
RMT Strike negotiator Mick Lynch

Union boss Mick Lynch is great at rail strike based media interviews but would he be good at Crisis Communications?

Would Mick Lynch be good in a crisis communications situation?

The UK has become obsessed with RMT trade union boss Mick Lynch this week (June 2022) thanks to his combative and no nonsense interview style during the rail workers strike negotiations. Would he be a great spokesperson or representative in a crisis communications scenario though?

The Situation

Network Rail and The Department for Transport has been locked in battle with the RMT union over pay and working conditions negotiations. Mick Lynch of the RMT is leading the negotiations for the RMT and in line with communications and public relations best practice, as the most senior person in these negotiations, he has been taking the lead on media duties as well.

Network Rail and The Department for Transport (via Conservative Cabinet and Back bench MP media interviews) have struggled to get their points across whilst Mick Lynch has been praised for the way he has handled some incredibly aggressive interviews from the likes of Kay Burley and Piers Morgan.

Mick Lynch is now in the situation where he is landing serious blows on the Conservative Party, Network Rail and The Department for Transport, whilst also revealing to the public the lengths and underhand tactics that the media are using to try and put him off.

Whilst this is all going on, there has been industrial action by RMT members that has caused the rail industry to effectively shut down for several days, and it looks like this could drag on for several months. Other unions, such as ASLEF are also balloting their workers for strike action and they may even feel more inclined to go on strike having seen the support that Mick Lynch and the RMT are getting for taking the action that they have.

Here are 8 minutes of Mick Lynch owning media interviews!

The Mick Lynch crisis communications and public relations debate

I am not going to comment on the actions taken by the unions or the working conditions and pay being disputed because the focus on this article is on the communications aspect.

There is no doubt that Mick Lynch is a great orator and that there is a lot that public relations people, communications consultants, media outlets and leaders of business could learn from him and his style. One of the key learning points for all of the above groups is that having in-depth knowledge of your subject matter is absolutely essential if you are going to appear in media interviews.

I have lost count of the number of times where a business person or member of parliament news TV interview has put the subject on the back foot because of a question where they don’t know the answer and rather than admit that, they have to then try and pivot the conversation over to something they do want to talk about using the widely recognised crisis communications tactic of a bridging point.

Mick Lynch did not need to use a bridging point. He knew the subject matter inside out. This reminds me of an early part of my career and how I moved from working in the political team of a Utility company to the comms team.

I was asked to help the public relations team on a radio broadcast story about a very technical legal matter as they needed someone with knowledge of the regulatory framework set out by a Government department that ruled the industry in which I was working. After explaining it to the comms team it was decided that I should do the radio interview. It was a local radio station and I guess that the comms team felt I posed less risk than them doing it and getting the answers wrong.

I was confident, knew what I was talking about and must have come across well because I was then asked to join the public relations team full time. I am not on Mick Lynch’s level but it is knowledge of your subject matter that gives you confidence and helps you come across well.

If you have watched the above video which contains a glorious eight minute compilation of Mick Lynch owning the likes of Kay Burley, Piers Morgan, various Conservative MP’s and a few BBC reporters, you can see how the knowledge of his subject puts him in such a commanding position.

My question, and the point I have made to others in our industry, is that his combative style is not suited to a longer-term, or issue led, crisis communications story. Could you imagine Mick Lynch’s tone and style working as well as it did for Nick Varney (CEO, Merlin Entertainments) and his interview with Kay Burley (see below)? I can answer that question, absolutely not.

Neither would Lynch’s style work in a situation where you are starting on the back foot. For example, the BP Oil Crisis or how Manchester Police had to respond and update the media during the terror attacks.

I am sure that Lynch and the RMT communications team would argue that his style can be more flexible to suit the subject he is speaking about but I am not sure we have seen evidence of this so far. He has one style, one tone and wow they are super effective.

Would I want Mick Lynch to be leading an organisation on a day to day basis; yes. Would I like him to be leading the way during a crisis communications situation, probably not. What say you?

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