It was the headline that caught my eye…

” ‘It’s not a spin centre’: Mayor”

The story was the City of Vancouver and the provincial government’s opening of the Downtown Eastside Connect centre last Monday, billed as an international media and tourist centre to educate visitors on social issues facing Downtown Eastside residents. In addition to perusing the glossy photos of homeless Vancouverites, complete with condensed tales of hardship and challenges in the ghetto, visitors to the centre can rent a homeless person for a nominal fee who will regale you with stories of life on the streets in the Downtown Eastside for 30 minutes.

Not surprisingly, the media weren’t particularly on board with the Mayor’s enthusiasm for the centre. (See Miro Cernetig’s story in the Vancouver Sun) Aside from the blatant objectification in presenting homeless people as a human “library”, what’s really disturbing was how badly Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson muffed his message.

Mayor Robertson broke one of the cardinal rules of media relations: Don’t reply to a negative question by repeating the negative. By denying that the Downtown Eastside Connect is a “spin centre,” the Mayor came across as defensive and provided journalists with a juicy negative headline, in the hallowed tradition of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook!”.

When hit with a negative question, your first response should be an instant deflection of dismissal, such as “Quite the contrary, or “There’s another way to look at that” , or even the personable: “I prefer to see it this way.” Then move on to a positive statement by listing the attributes of what’s being discussed.

This will prevent you from coming across as defensive and increase your chances of communicating your announcement in a positive light.

Catch Paul Sullivan’s column in today’s Metro on politicians behaving badly.

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