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Downing Street’s new on-camera briefings – the lessons for media training and corporate communications
July 7, 2020

Downing Street is planning to overhaul the government’s communications operation and to move towards televised media briefings similar to those used at the White House.  The daily Coronavirus briefings which ended a few weeks ago will act as a model.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that an experienced broadcaster is being sought by Number 10 to host an on-camera afternoon lobby briefing.  The paper quoted an official explaining: “People want to hear directly what the government is doing and to see it being held to account.”

The idea is clearly to increase the government’s control over the message that it’s putting across, without allowing the media and what politicians call “the commentariat” to distort it and apply their own bias.  Whether this move actually improves government relations remains to be seen but the idea of controlling a message is important to those working in corporate communications as well as government press offices.

We explain to people in our media training courses that you can never completely dictate what the media reports.  However, we offer a range of tips and advice that can give you more control over the message that the journalist takes away and, therefore, more influence over the final report.

Politicians have long wanted to control how the media reports them but in recent years this desire has become stronger.  I remember working with a government official in the Far East who complained that the media would take the government’s press releases and – shock horror! – change them rather than simply publishing them.  I had to explain that this annoying habit is what being a journalist rather than the copy and paste tool on Word is all about.  You say this, madam government minister, but I’ll invite some comment and analysis, apply my own knowledge and experience and then produce a report that I hope represents the reality of the situation.

During the 1990s the way in which Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell charmed, manipulated and bullied journalists to improve coverage of New Labour became part of media relations folklore.  The spinmeister and the practitioners of the dark arts were a source of fascination among journalists.  During his campaign and his time in office Donald Trump has attacked what he calls the “Mainstream media” and “Fake News,” eschewing newspapers and TV stations and Tweeting directly to his supporters instead.

Explaining the rationale behind his government reshuffle after disappointing election results recently, President Macron has made a special effort to talk directly to local newspapers rather than simply using the national media.  Research shows that the local media are still more trusted than national or social media

Writing in the Daily Telegraph historian Andrew Roberts argues that: “television has an unrivalled capacity to diminish and trivialise everything it touches. For politicians to believe that they will somehow escape, and be liked and admired the more that people watch them performing on TV, betrays precisely the kind of narcissistic arrogance that helped them decide to go into politics in the first place.”

He adds: “The “experienced broadcaster” who will host these briefings, and whoever is chosen to be the prime minister’s official spokesman, who will field most of the answers, will become celebrities overnight. The latter will also become a major political figure in his or her own right.”

How can you gain more control over a media interview?  Being clear on your message – the headline, the one takeaway is essential.  Ensuring that your message is convincing and resonates with your audience is another way of increasing the chances of the journalist reporting what you want them to report.  Using simple language that doesn’t sound bland, corporate and obfuscating also works.

Chat to Communicate Media

Live, televised briefings to the whole world aren’t available to most organisations and individuals as part of their communications strategy.  However, at Communicate Media we offer a range of media training courses and other workshops that can increase the chances of you doing a successful media interview, gaining more control over your interaction with a journalist and increasing the chances that when you see the final report it’ll be a reassuring confirmation that you did a great media interview – rather than a career shortening shock. Our media training courses are realistic, bespoke to your needs, quick to turn around and cost effective. Give us a call on 0800 1777080 or email us: gareth@communicatemedia.com  for more information.

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