Here at CommsConsult, we’re game to take on most challenges…For the second year in a row, we were asked to run a Simulation Exercise for keen first-year journalism students at our local University*.
The purpose of the exercise is to introduce rookie journalists to the cut-and-thrust of a Press Conference, and to encourage them to unearth the story behind the official statements, and to interrogate the dark and dodgy corners that often lurk behind a story.
Our team, of course, was there to provide substance to the dark and dodgy corners….
So, imagine the scene: media leaks about a proposed wind farm to be built on the site of a local council estate have prompted the council to issue a press release confirming that planning permission has indeed been given to a commercial company, Windblown Turbines Ltd. The council estate will have to be bulldozed and the residents re-housed. Not all of them are overjoyed. The council has promised to find new houses for them ‘in a timely and sensitive manner’.
The wind farm promises to provide 15% of the local community’s energy needs by 2015 (an estimate). The initiative forms a valuable part of the coalition government’s commitment to being the ‘greenest government ever’ (a hope): by delivering on promises such as delivering 15% of the country’s energy through renewables by 2020 (a fact).
The journalists have just come from a press conference where residents express their outrage at the demolition of their houses ‘by October 2011. Now it’s the turn of Windblown Turbines (turnover £150m) to put their positive spin on things (prompt opening joke about windmills and spin here…). CommsConsult play the part of the private sector, champing at the bit to promote the positive aspects of the new development and play down the rather ghastly, untimely, and PR-unfriendly demolition of an entire community…
And to try to hide the fact that our Marketing Director has a brother on the Planning Committee that recently gave approval to the wind farm development….(Remember that is a simulation exercise: staff members at CommsConsult would like to make it clear that we do not now, nor have we ever had, members of our family connected in any way with any planning application on any local council….Neither do we have a turnover anywhere near £150m..)
It’s a fantastic exercise and we learn lots about preparation, public speaking, and performance. We hope it’s useful for the journalists too. Today’s lot were very very active – more than 40 questions posed by around 50 student journalists in 20 minutes.
Successful tactics that we used?
• Video capture of local people who were delighted to be moved from their estate for all sorts of different reasons
• Taking three questions at a time to buy our team enough time to think fast about good, strong, positive answers
• Research around the topic (e.g. background on global climate change facts and figures) which we could use in support of our scheme
• Passing the buck onto the council to deal with all criticism that our commercial company couldn’t take responsibility for (e.g. unhappy residents not having information about where they would be housed) while expressing our support that they would ‘do a fabulous job’
• Massive enthusiasm for the renewable energy sector; the pioneering nature of the scheme; the brilliance of Britain’s moral lead in climate change debates (because the journalists – all British – can be invited to bathe in reflected glory…)
*We have omitted or changed the names and locations for this exercise in order to prevent students searching and sussing us out before other exercises in the future.