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During the summer Olympics, London is going to be awash with the good and the great from across the world. International leaders, athletes, businessmen and tourists will come to London to see the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. Unsurprisingly, the size of the security must match the size of the event.
The date was the 11th of July 2012, and it was a big day for residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone, East London. The reason is that the High Court is about to decide whether the Ministry of Defence can build a missile battery on top of the residents’ homes as part of plans to protect the games. It is not a plan they support.
The reasoning for their opposition, they cite, is that they dislike the idea of missile battery on the tower block but crucially, they say they were not fairly and properly consulted on the issue. Marc Willer, the lawyer representing the residents said: ‘Had the residents been consulted properly, or at all, their concerns would have been communicated.’
This is why we do what we do. When any sort of planning, whether a development or a missile battery, consultation pays dividends. Any PR expert will tell you it is vital to control your message, to speak to stakeholders which the development will effect and most importantly, to listen to them.
Joining the ‘Twilluminati’
I have a confession, which will be unsurprising to many who know me. I am a Twitter addict. Having said this however, whenever the subject of Twitter arises in conversation, most people all tell me the same thing – that they “don’t get it”.
Now I should preface this article with the fact that I’m not generally a social media evangelist. In fact it would be fairer to say I’m more sceptical than excited most times I hear about the “next big thing”. I make an exception for Twitter however, because even despite the hype, I think it’s widely underestimated.
When people join Twitter they, unsurprisingly, go and find people to follow. We are naturally averse to following complete strangers at first because it’s quite unnatural, which is why many people decide to follow their friends and celebrities. This is a mistake, because the second complaint people have about Twitter is that the tweets are all about “what people are having for dinner” and “how their bus journey is going”.
The truth is the most important button in Twitter is not the “follow” button, but the “unfollow”. If you don’t find their tweets interesting, unfollow them. If you find someone else who says something interesting to say, follow them and if you have an interest; find the users who share it.
The power of Twitter lies in its power to connect people. You can follow people who tweet from inside the borders of war torn countries taking grainy videos of tanks rolling down their roads, or perhaps a senior academic working on the large hadron collider; maybe you can follow your regional and national journalists as they tweet from the latest big court case or ask your local MP which way they are voting while they are sat in the House of Commons.
The problem is, of course, that Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga are unlikely to reply to your tweet and it’s unlikely your friendship circle involves MPs, senior scientists and reporters embedded in Syria. My advice to you if you don’t “get” Twitter is to go back, unfollow anyone whose content doesn’t interest you, then go back and find someone who does.
As a fledgling PR professional the prospect of pitching in a story to the national press was enough to give me palpitations and sweaty palms.
There were many reasons for this – my inexperience was a big factor – however, it is fair to say that they do have a reputation among PR consultants for being at best abrasive and at worst abominable.
There are a number of ways of avoiding their wrath though, which I have learnt throughout my career so far (and mainly the hard way!)
1) Make sure what you are pitching to them is indeed national news – a partner hire in a small law firm is not going to cut the mustard unless, of course, the partner in question is Simon Cowell.
2) Get straight to the point. They don’t have time to chat about the weather or what their plans are for the weekend, so keep your pitch short and pithy.
3) Tell them who you are and where you are calling from and, of course, the name of your client. They thrive on basic facts so not to include them at the outset immediately puts you on the back foot.
4) Make sure you’re prepared for their questions. Worse-case scenario and you don’t know the correct answer, say so and tell them you will find out as soon as possible.
5) Be aware of the news agenda – you are unlikely to get a big piece of coverage on, say, the day of the royal wedding, however compelling your story.
6) Know your audience – do they use Twitter or have a blog? Find out what areas interest them and read some of their recent articles to make sure what you are pitching is something that will interest and excite them.
7) Are they working to a tight deadline? If so, do not call them! We all get shirty when under pressure and interrupted – national journalists are no different.
8) Don’t get flustered if rushed. Stay calm and in control.
National journalists aren’t ogres and calling them with a story which you feel has real legs is never to be avoided, however daunting the task can first appear. What is more, there comes a great time in every PR person’s career when you can count some of them as people you chat with on a regular basis and who call YOU first! Until you get to that point, keep fighting the good fight. It is worth its weight in gold in the end!
It’s something everyone feels. The moment the camera goes on, the words start coming out of the journalist’s mouth and the slow, dawning realisation hits you. This is live. You become acutely aware of the simplest things; how you’re speaking, where you hold your hands, even the frequency of your blinking. Suddenly, the simplest of tasks like getting your words out, becomes a thought-intensive and complicated process.
At Bell Pottinger North we help our clients get through these difficult moments with expert media training from former journalists. One of the first lessons we teach trainees is to keep calm and handle any situation with care, compassion and control. Perhaps it is reassuring then to remember that even ‘experts’ at the art make mistakes.
On Monday, David Cameron was called into the Commons to discuss the future of his minister Jeremy Hunt who was facing accusations of complicity in News International’s takeover of BSkyB.
As soon as the Prime Minister started speaking, it was clear it wasn’t the calm and collected man we are used to. He immediately began launching tirades against the opposition benches, obviously irked at being called into the Commons when he was supposed to be campaigning.
This culminated in a comment he made to Dennis Skinner MP, the 80-year old MP affectionately known as the Beast of Bolsover for his bolshiness. The MP asked in his typical style:
“Why is the secretary of state for culture getting better employment rights than the rest of the workers in Britain? Is it possibly because you know that whilst ever the culture secretary is in the firing line, that it prevents the bullets from hitting you, the Prime Minister?”
To which the Prime Minister replied:
“Well you have the right at any time to take your pension and I advise you to do so.”
Just weeks after the controversy over a ‘granny tax’, the morning after the newspapers and airwaves were awash with accusations of ageism, losing control and bullying.
The mistake the Prime Minister made was a simple one. He forgot to handle the situation with care and compassion and turned a bad situation into a worse one.
It is always worth remembering when that camera switches on and the journalist starts speaking, whatever worries go through your head, just remember to keep cool and carry on.