Big companies would surely pay through the nose to learn from the skills and experiences of Tony Blair’s former media handler. Luckily this came as part of the package for those of us attending Progress political weekend via the breakout session delivered by Matthew Doyle, a former head of press for the Labour party, special adviser and then political director for our former prime minister.
Matthew’s media training workshop was not a beginners’ session on how to write a press release, but rather a tutorial encouraging us to think strategically about how to work with the media to further our goals and impact. This was illustrated with amusing examples from his time with Tony Blair.
The key points were:
– What’s in it for you? It is not the case that all publicity is good publicity so carefully consider how media exposure can support your wider aims.
– Be very clear about your message – what is it that the media can help you to convey? Develop 2-3 simple messages and rehearse until you feel comfortable with them. Using preparatory tools such a message house can help to clarify your points and be clear about how they fit together. Use real-life examples to support your points and practise doing interviews, including the kinds of lines that you can use to bridge from any question to the message that you want to get across. Always remember that your true audience is the public and not the journalist you are speaking to at that moment.
– Work to build trusted relationships with journalists and put yourself in their shoes – consider the constraints that they are working under, such as immovable deadlines, and think about why a story might be of interest to them.
– There is truth in the old saying that a picture tells a thousand stories. Think carefully and creatively about how you can use photos to convey your message. A number of successful and some less successful pictures of Tony Blair which have appeared in newspapers helped to support this point. In particular, we were advised to think about how to use all of the space available in a photo to ‘layer’ different messages. Note that the media is more likely to use a photo if the people in it are wearing some kind of hat – whether you want to be pictured wearing said hat is a separate point for your consideration …
– Speed is of the essence, both in achieving coverage but also in beating your political opponents. Work quickly to define them before they manage to define you. Once the media has labelled you in a particular way, it can be hard to shake off so best to get in there first.
This was a genuinely entertaining and, more importantly, very useful breakout session. The opportunity to learn from other Progress members with experience of working at such a high level is incredibly valuable – I look forward to seeing what is on offer at Progress Political Weekend 2013!
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