The story of the struggle for justice by thousands of Post Office branch managers against the Post Office itself has fascinated the nation over the last few weeks, prompting anger and disbelief at how so many innocent people were treated by what many regard as a national institution. In this blog, we’ll look at the three critical aspects of this event that have driven it up the media agenda and grabbed the public’s attention.
Our media training courses usually start by looking at what makes a media story. By understanding where journalists are coming from, the workshop participants feel more confident because they understand the nature of the beast they’re dealing with. They’re also better able to prepare for the authentic, role-play media interviews we’ll put them through.
The most important element of the Post Office story is justice. “Life isn’t fair,” grown-ups told us when we were little. But the fact is that we still want life to be fair. If you look at almost any media story that arouses passion and “has legs”, as we say, you’ll notice that it’s about fairness. Someone is cheating the system – and by the system, we mean us. Depending on your political viewpoint, that might be large corporations not paying taxes or not treating workers well. On the other hand, it could be people defrauding the benefits system or the asylum process.
As we say in our media training workshops and crisis communications training courses, you need to ensure that you appear to be acting fairly as an organisation. The Post Office scandal also has an element of David and Goliath. You’ll see this with companies sacking people unfairly or a utility company sending an elderly lady a bill for thousands of pounds and then being slow and unhelpful to resolve the problem.
As a large company, you can’t pretend to be David, but you can sound human, natural, and compassionate in the tone and style of your communications. We stress this when we give feedback to course participants of our issue management or crisis communications workshops.
The Post Office story is just that – it’s a story. It’s got tension, emotion, heroes and villains, ups and downs, twists and turns, drama and a curiosity factor.
In our media interview training workshops, we stress the importance of storytelling. We humans relate to narratives – they help us understand the world. They also engage us.
According to researh from the University of Liverpool, around 65 per cent of all human interactions are storytelling. Give me a fact, and it’ll engage one or two parts of my brain. Tell me a story, and you’ll fire up around seven different areas.
As well as listening, which affects the auditory cortex, emotional engagement activates the frontal and parietal cortices; a mention of food does the same for the sensory cortex. Descriptions of motion or action will get a response from the central sulcus, the parts of the temporal lobe that deal with memory storage, the process of hearing sounds, visual recognition of faces (fusiform gyrus), and objects and the use of language, will be lit up when you tell a story.
This extra engagement is why we remember stories around 22 times longer than we do facts, according to research by psychologists at Stanford University. During our media interview workshops, we always advise participants to include stories, examples, case studies, and even simple anecdotes in their answers. In our media training courses for architects, for instance, that might be a little story about talking to the people who were going to use the building they’re designing.
We provide media training courses for fashion brands, and here it might be a story about where a creative director found inspiration for a new look or how the company is becoming more sustainable. During our media training courses for law firms, we also help partners and others include case studies and examples that can illustrate and prove a point they’re making without compromising client confidentiality.
Finally, the Post Office scandal is all about people. This relates to the point above, but again, during our media interview training, we point out that it’s people who read our newspaper stories and watch our TV news reports. Almost every subject we cover will need a case study. Writing about health? You’ll have to find someone who suffers from the condition or has had the treatment. Producing a report for the BBC Six O’Clock News on inflation or travel disruption? The producer will be looking for people to talk about the effect that these issues are having on them.
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We provide media interview training courses for financial firms, and again, we point out that even if you’re talking about money, ESG or returns on investments, adding a human story – even if it’s hypothetical – will increase the chances of your comments being used in the final report. They’re also more likely to achieve greater prominence.
We wish the victims of the Post Office scandal the best of luck in their continuing fight for justice. We’ll certainly be referring to this heart-breaking human story in many of our forthcoming media training courses.
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