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comms team feature

12 Ways to Prove you are a True Comms Professional

PR people are so often overworked and under-valued. One of the big – not so obvious – benefits of Media Training, is that it opens the eyes of executives to the role and the work of the comms team. But if Media Training is not on the agenda, here are 12 ways you can prove you are a true comms professional.

comms team

Be Prepared to Challenge

1. Ask repeatedly until you get a clear defined answer: Who is the audience? What do we want to achieve? So many PR initiatives fail because of woolly or ever-changing objectives. Senior people love demanding that something happens without being clear what the desired specific benefit would be. Phrases such as ‘get me some press coverage’, ‘get me some good PR for this’, or even ‘can’t you just give me the journalists’ mobile numbers’.

2. Ask: How will we know we have achieved that objective? What metrics will we measure? It can be difficult to measure PR impact or outcomes and it maybe there are no satisfactory metrics to log. But it is worth always asking the question, not least because it gives the PR professional cover if the coverage fails to wow.

3. Hold everyone to account for writing and speaking in plain English. It is no good you working your socks off to get people in front of journalists if, once they start, they can’t explain the project or product in ways that mean something to the audience. It is often uncomfortable reminding senior people to use more colloquial language, but it will pay dividends (assuming they listen).

4. Repeatedly ask: Is that true? Can we prove it? Can we evidence it? Some teams are overly cautious, while some leaders are way too gung ho. Given it is the PR team who will be fielding the calls if bold claims cannot be substantiated, it’s worth insisting that you have the proof points before you go public.

Know your Market

5. Know your journalists. Names and biographies of the top 20 or 30 journalists or bloggers on your media list should be well known to you.

6. Keep an eye on key competitors and remind your team what they are doing and saying. Many people are too busy doing the day job to properly keep across market issues. Those that do manage to do this will give themselves and the team an edge. Observations can be as simple as how active they are in the media, to what they are talking about, to the detail of which spokesperson is saying what. This may provide media opportunities, warn of ‘while I’ve got you…’ questions and much more. Above all, it will convince the business it is worth paying your wages.

Set your own Standards

7. Read everything you or a colleague writes, at least twice: once for sense and once for grammar and spelling. If you are about to publish externally, ask for a second pair of eyes wherever possible. This is especially important for me. I do not see grammar and spelling mistakes. I can read things as carefully as I like and I always miss something. Fortunately, I have people in the team who rarely miss anything.

8. Project plan everything. Diaries, dates, personal deadlines and to-do lists are the bedrock of professionalism. Even if you are doing this for yourself rather than a team, and even if you get knocked off course most days, working to a prioritised to-do list, and creating a simple timeline for everything, will keep you ahead and make you look efficient.  It also tends to provide great motivation and guard against distraction.

9. Read widely and pull out the PR lessons. For yourself to share with colleagues and to use as quotes or anecdotes in your PowerPoint. Not so easy in a busy life but reading around a subject will always enrich the fertility of your subconscious. I rarely find a book about current affairs that doesn’t teach me something about PR. Sharing nuggets from your reading will also ‘add value’ to team discussions.  (Obviously, be careful not to bore people.) Don’t know where to start? Try political biographies.comms team

10. Think like a millennial, whatever your age. Digital and comms should not be two separate departments. If they are, they need to work hand-in-glove. Imagine you were interviewing someone for a PR job. One candidate says: ‘I know my way around Twitter but I really hate all this social media stuff.’ The other says: ‘social media gives us a really wide range of options, and we can measure the impact of everything if we get across the numbers’. Which one would you hire?

11. Consume media. Stay across the news agenda and refer to it often with less newsy colleagues. As with everything, process will help you here. You could, for example, list 10 websites you flick through every day. Add a couple of TV or radio programmes that you listen to on catch-up – so you can jump through irrelevant items. You don’t have to do everything every day, just do some.

And Finally – Do your own PR

12. PR your own team. Remind colleagues what a good job the comms team does, either keeping things out of the news or winning column inches. Don’t assume colleagues in other departments understand the process or the value. You know the value of PR. Use it to boost the standing of your team. Showcase successes, talk a good game, craft your internal team messages. You never want to hear a senior leader say ‘I just don’t know what the PR team does all day’.

The Media Coach is piloting a new course – Personal Effectiveness Training. It’s all about communicating more effectively. If you, someone in your team or one of your direct reports could communicate better get in touch to discuss a bespoke course: online or face-to-face. Call us on 0207 099 2212 and let’s chat.

 

 

Crafted quotes feature

Choosing Words to Feed the News Monster

Craft your quotes before you go anywhere near a journalist. Use interesting language to highlight a key point but be boring on the stuff you don’t want to see online, in print or on the airwaves. This is how media-savvy people operate.

Crafted quotes from the last week

‘Moonshot’ and ‘Rule of Six’ are both examples in the last few days, of phrases churned out by the government’s spin machine. Both phrases have not just won headlines but also shaped a lot of subsequent debate. ‘Moonshot’ was particularly creative, although many are suspicious that as a policy it will turn out to have no substance, it didn’t stop the news coverage.

Blair and Major pick their words

Also, in the last week, former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major got together to condemn the Prime Minister’s backsliding on the Brexit deal. Their statement claimed the development was ‘shocking’ and it threatened ‘the very integrity of our nation’. They went on: the move was ‘embarrassing the UK’ and ‘irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.’ All carefully chosen phrases to keep momentum building behind the controversy. (This appears to have been successful as the other three living former prime ministers have condemned the Bill that will potentially override the newly signed treaty – and a substantial number of senior Tories are threatening to vote against it). Here is how all this first came to light.

 

As the clip shows, the Government had its own spin on the issue: positioning the Internal Market Bill, as a minor infraction o international law. One wonders, in fact, whether Brandon Lewis intended to be quite so direct when he said ‘yes this does break international law in a specific and limited way’. He appeared to be reading this response, suggesting it was planned, although that might have been affectation. My point is, he could so easily have said something less direct. His phrasing certainly set the agenda for the news cycle.

Did Brandon Lewis mean to be quite so direct?

The cynically minded might think it was deliberate and designed to detract from the rise in COVID cases; stirring up some anti-Europe pro-Brexit sentiment instead. I am always minded to err on the side of cockup over conspiracy myself, but it could be either.

One entertaining element of this row is that while everyone knows the government is prepared to ‘break international law’, very few people seem able to explain in what way. In this case, the spin has spun a thousand miles from the substance of the argument.

Just as the season changes, so do political fortunes. Johnson appears to be losing his Teflon coating and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer seem to be neck and neck in the ‘decent and competent stakes’.  But I can’t help noticing that Sunak is better at the soundbites. (As I said last week the Right in politics appear for now to making all the running in the soundbite stakes). ‘Eat out to help out’ may not have been an original Sunak phrase but it has definitely had cut through and was widely quoted and repeated. ‘No tax horror show’ is another strong quote. I have just spent 10 minutes on Google trying to find some comparable Starmer quote, but couldn’t. Apparently – according to Tatler –  Sunak has the help of his own special adviser, Cass Horowitz who is branded ‘a social media wunderkind’.  This may explain why the chancellor is doing well on grabbing headlines and social media likes.

I know politics should not just be about the spin – and many will argue that it is spin that has cheapened and undermined democratic debate. If that is your view you will deplore this chilling paragraph originally from Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, but picked up by The Week.

crafted quotes

 

Images:
Photo of Patrick Cockburn article
Still from YouTube, Brandon Lewis

Tony Abbott

Outspoken, Right-Wing, Thick-Skinned Egotists have Taken Over the News Cycle

As a spin doctor, I teach people how to get the headlines that work for them. It is more art than science but it is a well-understood set of principles.

Somehow or other in the last 10 years those of a right-wing bent have gotten better and better at this game, taking it to extremes that many of us find uncomfortable. And while the right gets bolder and becomes more outspoken, those who are liberal and left-wing have all but given up the game.

Tony Abbott

Abbott: Let Relatives Die of COVID

The row ignited by Tony Abbott’s comments in a speech at the Policy Exchange Think Tank in London last week is just the latest example. His comments about ‘letting people die’ rather than having the economic damage of lockdowns seem to me to be deliberately phrased to get media attention ahead of his appointment as Trade Envoy. Here is the Guardian write up.

And while the media report the headline comments, social media is quick to throw lots of fuel on the fire.

Tony Abbott

In different times, courting outrage would pause the hand of a Prime Minister about to appoint a foreigner to a high-profile advisory position. But today it seems to have either had no influence or helped the cause.

The reality of health economics – how much it is worth spending to keep someone (even someone we love) alive – is a real dilemma that we all have to grapple with at some point in our lives. Whether with pets, elderly parents or ourselves. Society has to grapple with this too. It is a difficult issue and any sane person knows the answer is neither ‘it doesn’t matter how much it costs’ or ‘just let them die’. It is a nuanced sensitive issue that can quickly cause hurt, harm and outrage if phrased badly.

Abbott: Being insensitive and outspoken wins publicity

Most people in public life would be very careful about tackling the question directly. By being insensitive and outspoken Abbott wins a lot of publicity. Here, for example, is a Sky interview with the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, where 3 minutes is devoted to Abbott’s comments and impending appointment. Aren’t there more relevant things that our Transport Secretary should be asked about? Of course, the tone of the interview is negative. No one does outrage like Kay Burley. And most normal people would find it horrible to be discussed publicly in this way. But I am prepared to bet that Abbott is far from displeased.

 

I have just finished listening to, rather than reading, the book Tribes by the Labour MP David Lammy. He bucks the trend and is an unusually outspoken voice on the left, no stranger to courting controversy himself.  I found the book a somewhat unsatisfactory mixture of big thinking, personal anecdote and discussion of the issue of race but there were some good takeaways. In particular, when talking about how being extreme in one’s views and choice of words is being rewarded by the algorithms of social media and the news cycle – with the effect of pushing us all into one camp or the other, and pushing the camps further and further apart. Why the right seems to be winning this damaging battle is a mystery to me and I would welcome other people’s views.

But in the meantime, I believe Tony Abbott is manipulating the UK news cycle with his ‘let your relatives die’ comments. He would have barely been known in the UK before that speech and his appointment would have had a lot less coverage.

Image: Tony Abbott, YouTube

perfect pitching

Perfect Pitching: My 7 Top Tips

Perfect pitching requires bringing together a lot of elements. It is more than just a presentation – but is never just about the hard sell. We coach people and teams to give great pitches and there are a few things we always look out for.

1. Perfect Pitching Starts with Questions

To do a great pitch you have to squarely meet all the needs and desires of the buyer. What exactly do they need? What are their concerns or reservations? What do they want to hear? You will never do a good job if you just roll out the last pitch you did with a few updates. Carry out a thorough analysis of the potential client first and ask questions of them in whatever way you can.

2. Introductions

Keep introductions short and sweet. They can quickly become boring, especially if you have a team of people on the pitch. If you provide written biographies in the handout you can just cherry pick a few key points. If you can make the introduction interesting and fun that is absolutely worth doing – but don’t labour it.

3. The Creds

It is always important to have a short section in a pitch that explains your credentials. However, this is another area that can quickly become very dull. Consider leaving the credentials to the end of the pitch – after you have explained what you can do for this particular client. If you fear they won’t listen until they’ve seen the creds, try again to do it succinctly. Just because it is succinct doesn’t mean you can’t use the odd interesting, unusual or, if appropriate, gossipy bit of information about one of two of your previous projects. You are looking to pique interest. If it prompts a follow-up question, you are doing well.

4. Keep the Slides Clean

Too much information on the slide is a classic problem. We see it all the time. The font gets smaller and the client is faced with prose rather than summary. Clients often say: ‘we have to do it like this because we print out the slides as the handout’. Such an approach will ensure your pitch or presentation is suboptimal. If you put the detail in presenter’s notes, you can print out a version that includes the slide and the presenter notes together. That way, the client is left with all the information but hopefully, during the pitch, they are concentrating on you and not the small print.

5. Don’t Read the Slides

This is related to the point above but is so important it is worth underlining. If you include a lot of text on the slide you will be faced with the dilemma: do I read out the slide or assume they will read it while I am talking. Neither option is good and definitely sitting watching someone read their slides is never going to make a client love you. Instead, think of your pitch as a performance (not a read through) and remember you are required to entertain.

perfect pitching

It’s all about connection

6. Rapport is King

People buy people – or teams. Selling often – even usually – hinges on personal relationships. Whilst you will have important information to deliver, the whole point of inviting people to pitch is so that the buyer can make a personal assessment of the team. Although the presentation is the vehicle, the key focus should be to create rapport or opportunities for rapport. Lindsay Williams (MD of The Media Coach) has urged me to read Chris Voss ‘Never Split the Difference’. She points out that Voss urges negotiators to watch the reactions of the other team. If someone reacts facially or physically to a piece of information find a way to check what the reaction means. Questions should be open – don’t assume you have read it right. But asking ‘have you come across that before?’ or even ‘I am thinking you perhaps disagree with that?’ allows the buyer to connect with you and is likely to give you useful information.

7. Hold Back the Last Slide

In business life, there is nearly always a Q & A after a pitch. That is a good thing and is often when some real work is done. However, it presents a danger. If you have been discussing some relatively minor and perhaps sticky point for a few minutes and then come to the end of your allotted time, the buyers are left with that subject in their minds. I suggest you take a few seconds to say ‘ well we have come to the end of our time but can I just leave you with our key points…’ and put up the last slide, a short succinct summary of what you are offering. That way you leave your message in their minds.

The Media Coach team can help you and your team with their pitch whether that is online or face to face. If you think your pitch performance is not yet perfect, why not give us a call? +44 (0)20 7099 2212 or drop us an email enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk.

Featured Image Credit, Claudio Schwarz via Unsplash (Licensed under a CC0 1.0 licence)

Can we film with social distance

Can we film with social distance? Five tips from our NHS filming

Can we film with social distance? This is a question that is now being asked in every professional production meeting and will be for the foreseeable future. A question that had previously probably never been formulated, perhaps with the exception of wildlife filming.

It is also a relevant question for corporations and large organisations, all now used to using video to communicate with clients, staff and potential customers or users. But all having to rethink how it can be done in the age of COVID 19.

In the last few weeks, we have been filming induction videos for returnees to the NHS. We have worked with medics to establish new ways of working. This has shown us that, while all this is an extra set of complications, filming safely is perfectly possible. Here’s a video summary of how we are doing it.

So what are the new rules to ensure the filming process does not spread the infection.  Here are my five tips

1. Minimum number of people in the room

Firstly, keep the crew number and the observers to a minimum. Ideally just one person behind the camera.

2. Wear Masks

Crews can wear face masks. Obviously, those being filmed probably can’t wear a mask but the crew is not seen and therefore can. As we all now understand non-medical masks protect others in the room rather than the wearer.

Can we film with social distance

3. Two metres apart

Having enough space is something that will take thought and planning. People who book rooms for us to work in often underestimate the amount of space needed to arrange a shot, with good lighting and an inoffensive or even interesting background. Now we have to be much more aware of space. Being safe requires the use of larger filming locations – bigger meeting rooms or even outside spaces.

4. Radio or Boom Mics

Next, to avoid physical contact between crew and performer, we are using radio microphones that clients can attach for themselves, or a boom or shotgun mic, which has the benefit of no physical contact between crew and client. We have all got used to seeing these on the news – news crews all over the world have already demonstrated this can be done.  Fortunately for us, we already have both radio mics and boom mics, so no issue here.

Can we film with social distance

5. Hand Hygiene

Finally, the fifth element of social-distance filming is hand hygiene. We have to make sure that the crew carries both hand sanitiser for personal use and also anti-bacterial, alcohol-based wipes to make sure that items of kit (such as microphones) can be easily cleaned between jobs.

We are working in London, filming corporate videos and available for training as the UK finds its new normal. If you want to discuss what our team can do for you please call +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

dominic cummings' lockdown

Dominic Cummings’ Lockdown Drive : Falling Foul of Fairness

Dominic Cummings’ lockdown drive may turn out to be a career-defining episode for the aggressive, plain-speaking and, until now, hugely influential political advisor.

Dominic Cummings Becomes the Story

Political advisors are supposed to know what works with the public: what has cut through, what the public will get behind and in the end how they will vote. It is this nose for the herd mentality and how it will play out amongst the various institutions and players with power – that ‘political advisers’ are paid for. Dominic Cummings appears to have either misjudged this one – or realised he was gambling with his career and drove north to Durham anyway.

Watching his performance in the garden at Number 10, many people, especially many parents of young children, will understand the dilemma and his actions. Most will see it as in a different league to the Scottish Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, who twice broke lockdown to visit her second home. In his statement, Cummings provided evidence that what he did was not illegal. Lockdown rules allowed that – especially for those with young children – it may not always be possible for everyone to comply with the strict ‘stay at home’ message.

 

Cummings Falls Foul of the Fairness Principle

The problem is that Cummings’ actions fall foul of the fairness principle. Others did stay at home in difficult circumstances: did not visit their children in hospital, did not see their father before he died and so on. And the fact that Cummings went home to Durham when things got tough, is seen as simply not fair.

A sense of fairness, or fair play, is a very powerful driver of human action. I must admit I hadn’t fully understood this until the last few weeks. But an innate, ingrained and universal sense of fairness has been a theme in two of my lockdown reads. Both stress all human beings are born with this sense of fairness and both stress that you ignore it at your peril.

In the Chris Voss book on negotiation, ‘Never Split the Difference’, the author points out that even in highly unlikely situations – like negotiation with kidnappers (he was an International FBI Negotiator) –  ‘a sense of fairness’ is something that can be used by either side. One of Voss’ ‘tricks’ was apparently to tell the baddies that he wanted to be ‘fair’ with them. He also built a reputation or brand for being a ‘fair’ negotiator, sticking to his word, etc. But the crucial phrase here is on page 122.

dominic cummings' lockdown

Lockdown reading. Both books point out that fairness is an innate and powerful human emotion

‘The most powerful word in negotiation is ‘fair’. As human beings, we’re mightily swayed by how much we feel we have been respected. People comply with agreements if they feel they’ve been treated fairly and lash out if they don’t.’

He later mentions research that even monkeys will throw a tantrum if they don’t feel they are treated fairly. The sense of fairness is in our genes.

A Sense of Fairness is in our Genes

The fairness point also makes a significant appearance in another book ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The authors similarly point out that our sense of fairness is innate and almost certainly evolved as a way to live in harmony with each other and manage conflict. But the crucial point for this argument is that in times of war, governments take action to make society seem fairer. As Wilkinson and Pickett write:

Britain became substantially more equal during both the First and Second World Wars as part of an effort to gain support for the war effort’.

To state the obvious, if the cooperation of the majority of people is thought to be essential there is a need to convince them that the burden and sacrifice are being equally shared. And that is where Cumming’s has tripped up.

And it seems to be this fairness point that really hit a nerve with Church of England bishops. They took to Twitter to lambast the Prime Minister for supporting Cummings’ decision to drive to his parents’ farm during the lockdown. Here is what they had to say. Who even knew there were so many bishops on Twitter … but the fact they were all prompted to get tough by this is story, is pretty telling.

Cummings’ own performance yesterday was not arrogant or belligerent. He did explain his thought processes, but he also refused to apologise. It is the nature of the beast. But so often half an apology is worse than no apology at all.

For anyone who wants to see how to handle aggressive questioning, the Cummings performance is pretty strong. [I feel the FT’s coverage is uncharacteristically misleading] He is calm and respectful although clearly rattled. He is also apparently employing the ‘till they drop’ press conference technique which aims to give journalists as much time and access as they like, in the hope of arriving at the point where all questions have been answered and no one cares anymore. There is a fictional version of this in a West Wing episode that is a great illustration of the principle. I am clearly not the only person who remembers this from more than a decade ago.

dominic cummings' til they drop

At the time of writing it is not clear whether Cummings has done enough to save his job. However, one thing is clear to me. He would have had a better chance if a) he had done the press conference a few days earlier and b) if he had apologised properly.

The Media Coach team prepares people for difficult media interviews, and helps companies with Crisis Communication Plans. If you think we can help you or your team please call me on 020 7099 2212.

stay alert feature

Stay Alert – A Perfectly Good Message

‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives’ is the UK government’s update to ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS’ … and political opponents from all quarters have orchestrated a loud furore about the ‘confusion’ caused by this message.

Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland was quick to complain and refused to adopt it north of the border and the Welsh government quickly follow suit. They complain that no one will understand what ‘stay alert’ means.

What poppycock.

‘Stay alert’ is perfectly clear (in context) and a perfectly good message.

stay alert

Stay Alert: The Role of a Top-Line Message

Short pithy phrases make good ‘top-lines’ for messages. They rarely encompass the whole story. In fact, it is often better if they don’t. So long as they are memorable and relevant then it is often useful to spark some discussion about the detailed meaning. I think of it as opening the door to an argument. In time the top-line phrase may become the shorthand for the whole argument or narrative. Think ‘shielding’ in the COVID context. Think ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’; think ‘keep calm and carry on’; think ‘dig for victory’ and so on. I suspect all my readers could explain the thinking behind each of these phrases. But anyone working on a literal translation would probably struggle to understand.

The tricolon ‘Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS’ was similarly incomplete. For example, what does ‘protect the NHS mean’? Should we arm ourselves and stand in front of hospitals? No, of course not. Government spokespeople needed the top-line ‘protect the NHS’ to open the door to understanding the importance of ensuring the health service was not overwhelmed as had been seen in Italy. Everyone got it.

‘Stay alert’ as an update to ‘stay home’ is not at all confusing. It obviously means you no longer need to stay home but things are far from normal. In the detail there is stuff that needs to be explained; new rules about what we can and cannot do.

Of course, the government could have said instead ‘be careful’ or ‘stay aware’ or ‘be vigilant’ or ‘pay attention’ or ‘keep your wits about you’ and so on. But ‘stay alert’ would be my favourite of all those.

So why the loud complaints and sniping from the side-lines? The answer, I think is that there are political opponents who want to ensure they are seen to be active. But of course, it is very difficult to criticise too heavily when, to do so, might risk the current compliance and the life-saving consensus. Simply put: they have to find something to complain about.

For students of PR, it is worth understanding that even when people criticise a message – it doesn’t necessarily mean it is not effective. To take a controversial example from history (which I strongly disapprove of), Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ phrase was massively criticised. But it was also hugely influential. The Brexit campaign’s £350 million a week claim was again hugely criticised, for good reason, but undoubtedly influential.

Top-line messages need to be short and memorable and open the door to an argument. As anyone who has worked with us knows, we favour metaphors, similes and analogies in this role but the important question is does it do the job? And here is why this is important. If, as a spin doctor or slogan writer you are too cautious, you will end up with something wordy and worthy that everyone can agree on, but no one remembers.

There are many things the government – perhaps most governments – have got wrong in this crisis. Mistakes that have cost lives. Bitching about the message is just a distraction.

coronavirus messaging feature

Coronavirus Messages Are Missing The Under 30s

Guest Blogger : Raff Marioni

Coronavirus messages are not reaching people under 30. At 23 years old, I’ve obviously had a lot less experience than a Whitehall spin doctor; but I can say with total confidence that the government isn’t speaking young people’s language and they are not finding me or my friends online.

Raff photo coronavirus messaging

Meet Guest Blogger Raff Marioni. He says government messages about COVID 19 are not reaching his generation.

Looking at my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feed – the most important gauges of what my friends are talking about – Covid-19 is still considered only a danger to old people and there’s minimal government-led messaging on important details we should know.

The Media Coach asked me to share my thoughts on this problem. I am 23, in my first year of working for a PR firm. Before that, I was president of Newcastle University Students Union. I was introduced to the world of messaging and media management when – while at Newcastle Uni – I was trained by the Media Coach’s Jon Bennett. Jon, who is a Newcastle Uni alumni and a trustee of the SU, recently asked me if I thought young people were ‘getting the message about COVID’ and my answer was an emphatic no.

Coronavirus messaging

Coronavirus Messages Generation Gap

What is clear to me is that for my generation there’s a gap: coronavirus messages are not cutting through. Under thirties are not changing behavior. And I blame that on old fashioned comms that are completely unsuited to a digital world.

It’s as if the government dusted off a pre-internet pandemic media strategy from the 80s and put it into action, focusing on adverts in papers, TV news interviews and marathon daily briefings. That might be what you need to reach the over-40s, but it’s totally outmoded for my generation.

For me and my friends, the idea of buying a newspaper is about as foreign as the idea of ever owning our own home. We also don’t tend to have allegiances to traditional outlets either; there’s rarely such a thing as a Guardian or a Mail reader. My mates are much more likely to self-identify as a Twitter or a Facebook user.

So if you want to talk to us, you need to go to where we are – and young people consume their media almost exclusively digitally. And they want something fresh and authentic.

A really notable example of where old media jumped the divide into new media was Emily Maitlis’ opening monologue on Newsnight on 9th April, it went viral across UK social media because it departed from the usual safe bi-partisan format.

 

Social Media Timelines Keep Us Informed

It’s not that my generation never watches TV or cares about news, in fact, I’d argue the appetite for information is huge. It’s just that – because we have social media timelines, live updates from news apps and friends sharing links in group chats – by the time the evening news comes around we already know what’s happened throughout the day.

It means we also want something more than just an old-fashioned bulletin. We want news and views and I think broadcasters are starting to realise that.

Aside from getting the traditional headlines pinged to us on our phones, we’ll actively search Google or Twitter for what we want to know. A scan of the first few results on each usually provides us with the nuggets we need. We’ll only click for more detail if our interest is particularly spiked.

Another key source of information is the shared or sponsored articles on Facebook or Twitter timelines. To illustrate how times have changed, LadBible – a source of news, viral videos and funny stories – has 37 million Facebook followers, while The Sun has 3.3 million.

If the government wants to talk to us, they’ll find us online. But it’s a noisy space and in an age of relentless scrolling, we need something that will make us stop and listen.

If someone asked my advice – I would suggest designing a targeted campaign that outlines that young people are still dying from Covid-19, combined with stark, sponsored ads explaining how ignoring the lockdown means we could kill our loved ones. It shouldn’t take losing a grandparent (or a job) to have grasped the severity of this pandemic, but for many young people, it has.

My Generation Grew Up on Spin

I am from a generation attuned to, and drained by, spin. We’re massively cynical about government soundbites because we grew up with Blair and Iraq, the tuition fee fiasco and the Brexit bus farrago.

It’s why we’ll listen to Chris Whitty, but when Johnson or Hancock muscle their way into frame, we return to scrolling.

Ultimately, young people are used to looking ahead, but we’ve suddenly lost momentum in our lives. Tell us what the future can look like if we all get this right. Just do it clearly, concisely and in our language. Oh, and don’t expect us to spare you an hour.

Photo: Image © Acabashi CC-BY-SA 4.0
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:One_form_of_exercise_social_distancing_Tottenham_style_Covid-19_pandemic_7.jpg

Feature hostage to fortune

Hostage to fortune: 20 thousand deaths would be ‘a good outcome’

The phrase ‘hostage to fortune’ is an English idiom which we use a lot in media training. Experts of all sorts are prone – when asked their opinion – to give it, as best they can. It is utterly reasonable but in the public domain often ill-advised.

As most people will know the phrase ‘hostage to fortune’ means something that will cause difficulties in the future. This is a particular risk with journalists who are always looking for a story and in particular evidence of failure or disappointing outcomes. Being too precise in a prediction can play right into their hands. And of course, any big bold numbers will always be a potential headline.

hostage to fortune

The Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, faced questions from the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday 17 March 2020

Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser, was asked on 17th March – by Jeremy Hunt MP – to outline how many deaths could be expected from coronavirus. He explained that 20,000 deaths would be ‘a good outcome’. (He was careful to say this was horrible and ‘an awful thing to have to predict’. He did not forget to show empathy.) This was a select committee rather than an interview, but I thought at the time that he might live to regret being quite so precise.

A few days ago the number of hospital deaths from coronavirus passed the 20,000 mark and, as all would expect, this was a focus of much of the questioning and the coverage. Does the fact that we passed 20,000 mean the strategy should have been different? etc.

Of course, those questions would have come and will come in the future anyway. But it is a good illustration of the principle: Give a prediction and then fail to meet it is a sure way to get a negative headline.

hostage to fortune

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

A similar but different example is Matt Hancock’s promise on the 2nd April to be able to provide 100,000 coronavirus tests a day, by the end of this week. However, while this may, in the end, prove an embarrassment or at least another ‘failure’ headline, this number was not given by accident. Hancock is a seasoned politician and he did not make this promise casually. Many at the time believed the promise was rash but he appears to have deliberately set what is called in the jargon a ‘stretch goal’. Clearly, he felt it would concentrate minds and demonstrate commitment. Some credit the target with reversing a sense of government ‘drift’.

There should be no absolute ban on spokespeople sharing targets, internal goals, or just a personal assessment. But those speaking in public need to understand that what might have been a ‘finger in the wind’ type guess by an expert – can seem so much more definite and considered when it turns up in a headline.

A new PR term: Astroturfing
I learnt a new word this week: astroturfing. In the US, there is a suspicion that protests against the coronavirus lockdown may not be spontaneous grassroots-led protests but have in some way been orchestrated by right-wing lobby groups. Apparently creating something that looks like a grassroots movement when it is not is called – astroturfing! Who knew?

 

Image of Sir Patrick Vallance – YouTube
Image of Matt Hancock – Wikimedia

Presenting online feature

Presenting online: lipstick and heels

‘I’ve got 5 minutes to air and I’ve still got two calls to make when the usual morning refrain rings out around the office. ‘Barclay, get your lipstick on’. If I’ve told her once I’ve told her a thousand times – this is radio, no one sees me, I never wear makeup and I DON’T HAVE ANY LIPSTICK.’ The words of my colleague Liz Barclay remembering our days working together at the BBC.

Presenting online

Just reading that story makes me nostalgic! It was me that used to say ‘Barclay put your lipstick on’. At that stage, Liz was a presenter and I was her producer on Radio 5 Live. It was always very busy and there really could have been two quick calls to make before we went into the studio. I wanted her to clear her head and get into performance mode … I knew she would never in a million years put any lipstick on – but it was our ritual. [Liz Barclay, of course, is now a very popular media and presentation trainer via The Media Coach. You can read her profile here.]

I was reminded of our lipstick ritual last week when I had to ‘pitch’ for work, but do the pitch via Skype. I decided not to just do the obvious ‘business wear’ for the top half, but to put my heels on as well. As I did the meeting sitting down you could be forgiven for thinking ‘why heels?’ well, it was all about getting into performance mode. Walking around for ten minutes beforehand, I could feel my head clear and my persona switch from dog walker to consultant.

We all know – if you look good, you feel good – and if you feel good, you perform better. And in these times of lockdown, switching from home-mode to work-mode is harder without all the contextual cues. But you can help yourself, hack your brain if you like, with lipstick or heels. For men it may be a shave or a shirt and tie.

I discussed all this, via Zoom, with former colleague Laura Shields: she now runs the Red Thread Consultancy in Brussels. Red Thread, like The Media Coach, is now doing a lot more training online.  But Laura is ahead of me in this world of online presenting:  she not only works as a consultant; she was also a spokesperson for the campaign group ‘British in Europe’. She has done several TV interviews via Skype and Zoom. Laura (with help from her husband) set up a camera separately from her screen, to give more professionalism.  She has some proper lighting and has trained herself to look properly at the camera in true television style. Here is the relevant part of our chat.

For Laura, the next step is to find a way to move a plug-in camera so she can present online – standing-up. Meanwhile, even Laura’s 7-year-old son is embracing the technology. Here he is talking to classmates during a virtual birthday party.

Presenting on-line

We are all being forced to learn a new way to work. If we can help you prepare an online presentation or put together a video just give us a call +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Meanwhile, here is an article from Corporate Comms Magazine, about how to do a good skype interview for professional broadcast.