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Yesterday’s strike – a message that mattered?

We’ve just had the biggest public strike in Britain in years. I was expecting some intelligent debate about it in the media but no, what everyone wants to talk about are the comments from that reliable rent-a-gob, Jeremy Clarkson.

Jeremy, to anyone who doesn’t yet know, suggested that all strikers should be shot in front of their own families. It was an opinion made in jest, spur of the moment and very typical Clarkson, tongue in cheek, but has provided plenty of fodder for the tabloid press and radio phone-ins today.

I’ve run many a discussion show over the years and am fully aware that it is important to book someone who you are secretly hoping will be terribly opinionated and indiscreet. There is indeed a certain cynicism that creeps in when you’ve been doing the job for a while where it is tempting to deliver the most entertaining speaker to the audience rather than the argument. Jeremy is a dream guest in that respect and I’m sure part of the reason that he was booked on The One Show last night was because they knew he would say something outrageous about the strike.

Having the words come from the mouth of someone earning a telephone number salary just adds to the controversy.

If public sector workers have a good argument to make, it’s about time they made it clear. The Mail was definitely out to discredit public sector workers as it sent journalists and photographers to shopping malls yesterday to interview strikers. Bad publicity all round but few would be concerned about how they spent their time on strike if it seemed like there was a good case.

It seems to me that public sector workers are becoming demonised for daring to strike.

There is real anger about the cutbacks we are all facing but I’m not sure many people want to live in a divided society of them and us. Those of us in the private sector have struggled with employment and pay rates since 2008 and have learnt that we need to be more adaptable. While we are arguing about public sector versus private sector pay, nothing has changed at the top of society. There is still a huge disparity between the income of the super-rich and the rest of us. The banking crisis hasn’t changed this.

Unless public sector workers present a better case for their industrial action, the politics of envy will take over and the government won’t have any ‘wiggle room’ to offer a compromise.

The press are only interested in bad news……

This is a mantra I hear frequently when people talk about the traditional media and it always shows me how little we consider where news comes from.

 

News comes from human beings who are doing things – journalists have no magic wands, their job is not rocket science, it’s about dealing with and spreading information – and that’s all.

 

It’s so easy to blame things on the ‘press’ or increasingly on ‘social media’ as a convenient get-out clause without considering how news gets to us journalists.

 

The truth is bad news reaches the public domain very quickly in the UK and it’s easily accessible.

Often a bad news story will involve a public body at some point – public bodies are publicly accountable, spending our money and they have to be seen to be doing their job. So bad news comes via the police, the ambulance service, the local authority, industrial tribunals, courts, etc etc.

 

Bad news is also quite unusual and that can make it appealing. If you look at a newspaper, for example, how many of the lead stories are negative rather than positive?

Good news is much harder to sell because it’s so commonplace. There are good news stories all around us. Did someone smile at you today? Were babies born at the local hospital today? Was it someone’s birthday today? Do you expect all of these ‘good news’ stories to make headlines? The truth is a lot of good news is so common in any village, town or city that it’s mundane. You cannot full a newspaper with stories about people’s birthdays – who would read it?

 

So if you are building a brand, publicizing an event, you have to make it stand out from the crowd, make it easy for the journalist to use your story and trust the information. Like anything else it needs to be packaged correctly to have a chance of making it out there.

 

That involves not only the story but timing – if it’s a slow news day you might stand a better chance of publicity. Timing is as important as anything else. We can’t control what goes on in the world on any given day  but we can play the odds – it’s likely that a local newspaper will not have a big news story every day of the week. And with social media, get the news out there, several times if necessary.

 

cafe in Ireland with words 'come on in, the kettle's on the boil'

Why do the press seem to like 'bad news'?

Tip: There are no guarantees with PR – it’s about playing the odds, knowing the individuals, hitting the right note at the right time and acting quickly when opportunities arise.

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