How to talk human: Alumni media and messaging workshop

Preparation, passion, proof, professionalism and personalisation: These five ‘Ps’ are all you need to succeed when working with the media. Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple – but it’s a great place to start, according to Future of London supporters ING Media.

Translating complex policy and projects into simple messages is an essential skill for anyone working in planning, housing, regeneration and infrastructure today. Particularly useful when digital and social media has multiplied the number of voices and opinions available and in some cases their influence has trumped traditional print media. Bloggers “can be ferocious, with no obligation to offer balance” says former journalist Allister Hayman, now Associate Director at ING Media.

Allister and Account Director Tom Hawkins provided a small group of FoL alumni with an engaging workshop on media and messaging, including practical tips for working with the media, taking some of the group to task through recorded mock interviews on their projects.

To be heard above the noise, you need to have clear messages that emphasise the measurable benefits of your work to the community you serve. The alternative can leave you in an awkward situation. “Engaging with the media at the right time can help you get in front of the story, particularly when providing a potential exclusive,” says Tom. Print media must also “provide you with the right the reply when asked for a reaction to a story that’s not directly about you.”

It’s important to make the most of these opportunities and consider the objectives of the media platform or publication you’re talking to: Who is their audience, what interests them. Missing the mark can send the journalist mixed messages, resulting in more (and potentially more difficult) questions to answer later, bringing unwanted attention or, worst of all, leaving the article unpublished!

Paying attention to current news cycles and trends can help you appear up to date and connected to the issues affecting audiences. “Talk human, and avoid jargon and marketing speak,” warns Allister. “Use the language of place, ‘homes’ and not the language of investment, ‘units’.” This can help engage with your audience (colleagues, partners or residents), building mutual understanding and improving the public perception of your organisation and its projects.

Journalists have the right to ask you any question and ignoring them is not an option, but help is at hand. Difficult questions can be managed through bridging: Acknowledge, bridge and communicate. Showing you’re listening to the question but bringing the focus back to your key messages.

ING Media’s five survival tips for working with the media:

Preparation – the most critical tip! Create a project brief with three clear headlines and key messages but don’t take it into the interview.

Passion – don’t be bland. Be positive and show you care about the work you’re describing through your words, tone and body language, but be careful not to waffle.

Proof – back up your words with evidence; quote past projects or successes. Don’t make assumptions or lie. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and refer to someone else.

Professionalism – your conduct and manner are especially important when representing your organisation. Respect the journalist and he/she will respect you.

Personalisation – even though you’re speaking on behalf of your organisation, it’s you the media is speaking to. Show character and credibility.

These tips can be equally applied to numerous everyday situations, such as meetings, job interviews and public presentations, providing you with vital tools to boost your confidence and personal impact.

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