Why I like Bibi even though I don’t like Bibi

The prime minister is a prime example of how to win at media crisis management
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** 
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Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrating social distancing

At his press conference on March 14, Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the Israeli public that, “We are fighting a war – a war with an invisible enemy.” This is just one of the military references that speak to an Israeli audience, who are all required to serve in the army at age 18. In the second reference, he said, “This virus is changing all the time. We are in touch with top scientists and world leaders. We must stay ahead of the virus. For those of you who were in the army, you know the term ‘to advance’ or to ‘reevaluate in mid-action.’ This is what we must do with this event. Constantly move forward, be prepared to change while moving.”

Boom – Netanyahu shows us the importance of knowing the interests and needs of our audience. What can they relate to?

His other call was to establish a new “social distance.” As a ‘warm culture,’ Israelis maintain little distance between one another. We are also a ‘contact culture’ and touch each other constantly. Netanyahu warned us to maintain the necessary two-meter distance to prevent spreading the virus. Yes, he used his hands to demonstrate what two meters are. This is hard for Israelis. We hug and kiss when we greet each other. But no more, at least for the time being.

Which is why I must ask: Why did Netanyahu and the other speakers constantly fiddle with the microphone and the podium? Kind of defeats the purpose, no?

As for that touching and fiddling with the microphone, as the great Phil Collins said and what the country sees is, “Do as I say, don’t do as I do,” which is not great messaging. Bibi would do well to take some of his own advice and set a personal example!

Throughout the following days, Netanyahu’s messaging continues to be on point, and his tone is calm and authoritative overall. I hear that even non-Bibi supporters applauded his performance during these press conferences.

He continues to surprise us. Like him or not, the man is a king of media messaging and appearances. I have to say, in the appearances since dealing with the Coronavirus, Bibi has even lost that smirk that was so prevalent during the election campaigns numbers 1, 2, and, yes, 3. Remember those indictments? Nope, we are at war. If I had any negative critique of Bibi in media performances in the past, it was that he was almost too polished — he didn’t seem genuine or earnest. That smirk had a lot to do with it. His current tone is more conversational and one of concern, less of condescension.

On March 18, Netanyahu added to his messaging repertoire — “Love is distance. If you truly care about your loved ones, keep a safe distance between you.” He always finds those catchy phrases that we can grasp and remember easily.

So, what do you need to think about in order to speak to your audience in times of crisis?

  1. Define your audience. Who are you targeting? Find what is important to them. What do they care about?
  2. Create messages that your audience can relate to.  You have to be clear with your message.  Why should your audience care?  What are you doing to correct the situation?  What do you want them to do?  Tell us about the extreme measures you are taking to protect their safety and improve the situation for them. Be specific in examples/stories to convey the message.
  3. Bring in the experts. This is where you show them you have done your research and have done your utmost to consult with the top experts in the field.
  4. Your body language speaks volumes.  Your body language should reinforce the message.  If you want your audience to remain calm and follow instructions, your body language should support this.  Facial expressions should seem calm and confident.
  5. Show me that you care.  Your messages and body language must show that you are invested in this issue, you care about my welfare, you are doing your best to rectify the situation.
  6. Use facial expressions and your hands to speak.  This actually frees your voice. If your hands are frozen, so is your body. While you don’t want to have the “Thanks for coming to the wedding reception” smile, you should have a slight smile to show that you are confident in what you are saying.
  7. If you are interviewing for the media, know the show and interviewers. Is it a tough, hard core evening show or a softer morning talk show?  Adapt your manner and messaging for the type of show.
  8. If you are on a radio interview, adapt your messages for the medium. People are doing other things while listening to you, so they are paying less attention. Sentences must be short and to the point. Make sure you sit up, speak slowly and clearly and are still using your hands and smiling. We can hear the difference.
  9.  Dress the part. Do you want to exude authority and expertise? Or are you one of the people? Notice Netanyahu’s dress in the past days when appearing in the press conferences. Basic dark, impressive suit, crisp white shirt and colorful, solid tie – red/blue. He is a head of state, an authority, someone you can count on.

Of course, it is important to have a plan in place before a crisis occurs- prepare basic messages and train your spokespeople. Prepare for various scenarios.

Hope this helps. Wishing us easier days and soon.

About the Author
Linda Lovitch is a media and communications consultant in Israel, working with government spokespersons, ambassadors, high tech executives, start-ups, universities and non-profits. Linda helps people to communicate with clarity and confidence whether talking to live, televised or online audiences and under the current Coronivirus isolation directives, is expanding her offering to include effective presentation via teleconferencing and vlogging.
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