News

The new Downing Street media briefing room makes news itself – for the wrong reason
March 19, 2021

ITV News this week revealed the first pictures of the new Downing Street media briefing room. The aim of this new facility is to improve the media relations operation of the government. You might not have £2.6million to spend on a studio but what does the new White House style media briefing room tell us about corporate communications and what lessons can those working for in-house press teams learn from it?

The room itself – from what we’ve seen of it, anyway – seems to work well. The Tories are lucky in that their corporate colour, blue, works well as a background. It’s relatively neutral but serious and business-like.  Navy blue in particular is often associated with trust – think of the uniforms of the police and many cabin crew.

The union flags are obvious in a way but could be considered controversial by some commentators. This demonstrates the importance of thinking carefully about iconography and branding whenever you’re making a statement to the media.  Certainly, the high-tech kit should improve the quality of radio, TV and other video footage.  This is increasingly important these days as devices such as phones, tablets and TVs become more hi-spec.  From ITV News’ pictures we’ve seen two seats at the desk and, as we always say in our crisis communications training workshops, it’s very important to ensure that a spokesperson is accompanied by a facilitator or chair who can manage the audience.

It hasn’t been revealed yet, but it’s likely that journalists will have separate access and exit routes from the spokespeople.  In all situations, but especially in crisis management, this is particularly important.  You don’t want journalists ambushing your spokespeople after the press event as they look to make a clean getaway.

But, more generally, the problem with this facility is that it’s become something of a story in itself – and that’s not good news for the government.

As we point out in our media coaching sessions, money is always a sensitive issue – particularly when it comes to public finances. How much money you’re spending on something, how it compares to other things and where the money comes from makes this a potentially risky issue. Other questions might be how much are you paying your chief executive or shareholders?  How does this compare to your lowest-paid employees? If you’re spending money on one thing, then why are you spending nothing on something else?  These are all questions that organisations need to be prepared to answer.

 

There is another interesting story here which is the reported involvement of a Russian company in the installation of microphones, control desks, cameras and computers. Megahertz may well have done a very good job but, as we explain in our crisis management and message testing sessions, checking your supply chain and thinking carefully about everyone you do business with or are connected with is essential.

According to a source: “A Russian owned firm has been installing all of the communications equipment in Number 10. Questions need to be asked, the company does big installations for a number of organisations – but this is government.”

This quote is a prime example of an off the record briefing or a leak that can cause trouble for any organisation. Journalists will get their information from two sources – official spokespeople and their own contacts in or around the organisation. As part of a crisis management or issue management event, you need to be prepared for this kind of gossip and speculation.

In one of her first official public statements, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, explains breezily: “All the correct processes have been followed there are no concerns for our team.”  It’s a good statement in that it’s brief and firm but perhaps some more proof points would be useful to underline her message.

We’ll all soon get the opportunity to see the results of this snazzy new government communications facility. No doubt we’ll make reference to it in our media training courses but so far the news coverage that it’s generated itself hasn’t been particularly positive.

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