England & Wales, Scotland HR, workforce and communications

Engaging with the media is crucial to restore faith in local government

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Levels of trust in the UK government, media and businesses have plummeted over recent years.

Ipsos Mori found this week that belief in politicians has fallen significantly, and they have recently displaced advertising execs as the least trusted profession in the country.

At the same time, politicians are increasingly exercising their right to not engage with the news media.

The biggest political radio show, The Today Programme, rarely gets interviews with the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition.

Politicians often seek to communicate their message on their own channels, whether on social media or sympathetic websites where they can easier control the messaging.

All of which is, I am sure anyone reading this will agree, a sorry and regrettable state of affairs.

Which is why engaging the media – in particular the local media, which retains high levels of reader trust – is crucial in the fight to restore faith in local government.

Doing media seems scary. But it needn’t be – especially if it is embraced, and you’re properly prepared.

In my work as a PR consultant and former Whitehall press secretary, I have seen the love/hate relationship between politicians and journalists.

One of the biggest issues is a lack of understanding on both sides. Journalists are looking for compelling, interesting stories. Politicians and organisations often want to speak to journalists about one particular issue, and not take questions on other matters.

The two objectives rarely align. However, having a mutual understanding is the best way to eliminate the issues that can arise – and undergoing quality media training can help make what can be a fractious relationship work more smoothly.

Understand what the media wants

Journalists want to thrill their readers or viewers with the unusual and interesting so think about what they will want to know about. Use case studies and examples to bring your story to life and interesting visuals where possible. Human beings are at the heart of every great story, so make sure you’re always thinking of the people who will be affected by any change.

Act fast

Journalist are contact heavy and time light. If they ask for a comment, give them one quickly, before someone else does.

Practice

Then practice, practice, practice some more. Become an expert in your area. Try to think of all the questions a journalist might ask in advance and what your answer would be to allow you to control interviews.

Don’t talk in jargon

Viewers and readers aren’t experts. You need to find a way to communicate the facts without bombarding them with detail and jargon.

Know when to say ‘no’

There are many reasons to turn down an interview. It may be the wrong time, you might not be prepared or only know half the facts. It’s better to not do an interview, than do a terrible one.

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