2012: Volume 5, Issue 2, pp. 5-22

Public Relations Techniques for Leaders in a Crisis: 
Mackenzie King and John Curtin in the 
Canadian-Australian War Alliance, 1941-1945

Caryn Coatney



During their Pacific war alliance, the Canadian and Australian prime ministers initiated public relations techniques that secured journalists’ support, providing insights for developing positive media relations in the contemporary global financial crisis. As popular leaders, Canada’s Mackenzie King and Australia’s John Curtin used their backgrounds in news management and journalism to set precedents in government-media interactions. Yet there has been a lack of publications on their success as public relations strategists to persuade journalists and citizens to endorse their leadership in this alliance. King and Curtin advanced the use of relatively new media to convey symbolic messages that they were trustworthy leaders, sharing similar values and challenges as working-class audiences. Their expansion of the prime minister’s traditional use of the press, radio, and newsreel films created more opportunities for citizens to engage with political leaders and the government. By initiating more two-way discussions with journalists, they generated mainly favourable news coverage about their alliance. This paper investigates their use of interactive news interviews, practiced rhetoric, rehearsed gestures, expressions, and other media techniques to communicate with more citizens, based on the concepts of the public sphere and democratic governance developed by Habermas and Castells. Their techniques aided the development of more contemporary public relations practices in Canada and Australia. These tactics are relevant for today’s leaders when interacting with public audiences in diverse media to develop a shared understanding of common goals to resolve the global financial crisis.



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