When Margaret Thatcher died last week, I was surprised by the strength of feeling that event provoked in me. I might as well state now that I grew up in a working class family in Somerset under MT’s governance.
However I did not know her and I do feel for her family, her children and grandchildren for their loss. There will be no grave dancing or celebrations in my household. I will extend to them the same amount of sympathy and care, they would extend to my family when an elderly relative passes away.
Knowing that MT had shuffled off this mortal coil, however, took me back to my teenage years when my family was struggling with short-time working as my dad was a fabricator welder in manufacturing. But more than that, he’d been a coal miner, as had my grandfathers and my great grandfathers. I remember nothing good about the politics of that time for my family. I also remember the stranglehold of some of the trade unions, the closed shop attitude and I wasn’t keen on that either. It was a period of division and defiance.
However, I only expressed my views on my personal Facebook page and on a couple of business groups and the reaction was stark. Some treated me as I though I was a silly woman who couldn’t possibly understand the ‘bigger picture’ and some women started barking on about what a role model ‘Thatcher’ was for women. I respect most of their views but I don’t share them, I’m afraid.
Overall though, the divisive nature of the various debates which have hung around for days, reminded me of the strength of feeling MT could engender. Polar opposites appeared where none had existed before. It’s been very interesting and generated a feeling which existed very strongly in society during her reign.
My biggest disappointment has been hearing people suggest – as often happened in the 1980s – that because they’d been successful under MT (or any government for that matter), those who weren’t as rich or as successful must be lazy or scroungers.
The ‘I’ve got this because I’ve worked hard’ line which always suggests others aren’t working as hard. That kind of line always tells me that a person has no clue what’s going on in wider society.
Personally I have no problems with success – good luck to those who have it and well done if they’ve worked hard for it. Some do, some don’t.
But many, many people (like my dad) work really hard, live hand to mouth and still need some extra support. Many people work hard but are in jobs which will never lead to more financial success. That doesn’t make the millionaire in the next village better – it just makes them different.
It’s this lack of compassion and empathy which staggers me. Often from people I thought were better educated than that. Better educated than me.
Thatcherism seems to give people permission to kick the homeless, the disabled, the poor when they are already down. It allows people to gloat over the misery of others.
I had a lovely talk with my Mum about this and I felt humbled by her response. As a wife with two children and a husband working short time in the 1980s, life was a struggle. She often cried because there wasn’t enough money coming in. She said that she feels at peace about MT – for her last week contained a day when a defeated, old lady was set free.
Her reasoning was that on the day MT had to walk out of Downing Street having been thrown out by her own – that was the day justice was done for our family.
If MT had been defeated by a new government coming in, there would have been room for maneouvre. But when you are thrown out by your own, so publicly and then replaced by someone so grey and colourless – that’s the ultimate in humiliation. For Mum, when MT died last week, she was honestly able to say Rest In Peace.
It’s just a lovely picture…
Don't shut the door on free, independent, credible publicity...
Today’s I’m going to tell you about the kind of public relations person that journalists despair about and subsequently avoid like the plague. Why am I telling you?
To show you how journalists work, how they think, and how a bad communicator causes untold damage to a company’s reputation and significantly reduces their opportunities for future, credible publicity.
This story I’m going to relate is true, it involves an organisation which is real and which is active now – but I won’t name it as I don’t want to put any particular individual in the firing line. Simply because if an organisation is mad enough to appoint poor communicators, then it needs to look at itself rather than at any individual. That individual may simply be representing the view taken by the paymaster. So it’s the paymaster or paymasters who should re-think, in my view.
Preparing to make a short film for a broadcaster, us journalists almost always need case studies. Someone who has experienced the issue that concerns us at any one time. For example, if you are writing about the effects of prostate cancer, you want to interview several people who have it. This is sometimes very easy, some subjects generate loads of people who want to shout about their experiences. Others are far more tricky. How easy is it to get someone to talk openly, on camera about abuse they suffered as a child? Believe me, it’s difficult.
Then there are other subjects where people would think – ‘why is that difficult?’. Poverty is one of them. If you are struggling to pay the bills, are in debt, have lost your job, are overwhelmed by circumstance, it’s very difficult to go on camera to talk about these very personal things. It would involve talking about your income, your expenditure. Details which many of us feel are very personal and private.
So journalists like myself will contact a range of organisations and ask them to approach their members, people they’ve had dealings with or helped, to ask if they’ll take part in any filming. This gives potential interviewees time to consider, and then when they make contact they’ve often already decided they will take part. This is just one tactic we use as journalists to reach people.
Most organisation bend over backwards to help. They know the difficulties of getting case studies but they also know that if they find one, they increase their chance of being interviewed for a film, or at least mentioned. It also gives them a PR opportunity themselves to link their work to a film. So for a little effort, there could be credible, independent publicity.
This particular organisation has a membership based approach. It produced a report which accurately described the kind of circumstances which would work in the film. Having made a telephone call, explained the project to the ‘communications manager’, asked if she could help – this conversation ensued.
She said: ‘The report we did was based on anonymous interviews so we didn’t keep personal details so we cannot contact those people for you. Sorry about that.”
Me: “I understand. Is there any chance, in that case, that you could send out a request by e-mail to your members to see if they would be interested in taking part , or if they know anyone who can help?”
She said: “No, I cannot do that. We only do that for our members, not for any outside body.”
Me: “Oh…right….that seems unfortunate from a communications point of view. Wouldn’t your members want to know about an opportunity to take part in a film?…I find that extraordinary, oh well (goes to end call)”
She said: “Hang on a minute. I’m only telling you that we can’t help and we’re sorry, you don’t have to jump down my throat about it.”
Me: “I’m not jumping down your throat…anyway….thanks for your help. Goodbye.”
On ending the call, all the journalists sitting round me say ‘what was all that about?’. And I tell them.
So what has that communication manager achieved?
In one conversation she’s told five journalists within a news organisation that that body is not open to publicity, is not helpful. So when poverty comes up as an issue again in the coming weeks or months – will that organisation be the first that those journalists approach? No.
If that organisation has done something wonderful and sends out a press release publicising its work – what will those journalists do? Answer – probably nothing. And if it’s a slow news time and they do pick up on it – what do you think the chances are that the negative contact will be explained face-to-face with the individual put up for interview? Probably the boss. Answer, very high.
Being a defensive, uncommunicative communications manager has consequences – you will find it much harder to get good publicity when you want it as you’ll always be at the bottom of the pile, the last contact to be considered.
However if bad news strikes, you are unlikely to be spared the full consequences of it.