Over the last 50 years, in the run up to the General Election, The Sun newspaper has always backed the party it thinks will win the race to Number 10. Despite ridiculing Neil Kinnock’s Labour in 1992 (and famously proclaiming ‘It was The Sun Wot Won It’ when the Party was defeated that year), by ’95 Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid was championing the Party’s new leader Tony Blair.
Some have argued that, under Blair’s leadership and Alastair Campbell’s direction, Labour’s press operation was more proactive in its engagement with the media, which demonstrates the benefits and rewards of working with, rather than fighting, reporters and editors.
Failing to engage properly can be disastrous and you could soon find yourself in a losing battle with the press. In 2013, a Marcus Homes housing development came under fire from the Gloucestershire Echo, which, in the face of a ‘no comment’ from the company’s representatives, filled in the blanks and chastised the houses it wanted to build as ‘ugly… glorified shoeboxes’.
You don’t want to be on the back foot when it comes to media relations so it’s important to agree rules of engagement early on. Here are some tips on how to avoid an all out war with the press:
Issue regular statements and press releases to highlight the good work you’re doing in a community
Provide the reporter with a photo and a quote from a senior member of the project team; it’s the human element that sells the story
Be as open and transparent as commercial and legal constraints allow but remember there’s no such thing as off the record
‘No comment’ often translates as ‘guilty as charged’
Get on the front foot and provide them with the story; avoid the blanks being filled in by a journalist working towards a tight deadline
Be it print, broadcast or digital, the media can influence the way your development scheme is perceived by a local community and the Councillors who will determine your planning application. But by understanding and working with the media, it’s possible to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
So remember, make peace, not war, with Fleet Street.