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Melanie Proudfoot (RBF) NOC

Just a quick note to say how pleased we all were with the way the media training went yesterday with Andrew, who was absolutely charming and delivered an excellent session.

— Melanie Proudfoot (RBF) NOC

6 September 2013

The Client: Guinness South – part of The Guinness Partnership

This practical and interactive training has given staff across Guinness South the right blend of confidence and skills to be better equipped at dealing with the inevitable crises and challenges which come from the media on a daily basis, as well as the proactive skills in communicating the more positive news which enhances the reputation of the Guinness South brand. The result is a more outward facing organisation, achieving more favourable and consistent media coverage, to help us communicate effectively with our strategic audiences and partners as well as creating a more dynamic, high profile and positive reputation for Guinness South.
— Dawn Robinson, Marketing & Public Relations (PR) Manager at Guinness South

The Project Overview

Housing Associations are constantly being treated as soft targets by the media, hungry for the latest bad news story and reports about anti-social behaviour and neighbours from hell. But there are a vast number of good news stories to tell that often get lost, or fall by the wayside and go unreported and unnoticed. With the right training and support, Housing Associations can engage more proactively with the media and redress the balance of negative coverage – effectively turning around the “culture of blame” which the media seems to favour.
- Moya Fillmore, Director, Media Friendly – Media Training & Public Relations

In recent years Stock Transfer programmes have moved social housing away from Local Government control and towards Housing Associations, or into independent Arm’s Length Management Organisations (ALMOs). In a sector which is changing by the minute, with the Government subsidy for Housing Associations being slashed, with budgets being severely affected and with the enormous impact of Welfare Reform changes such as the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit, the Benefit Cap and Personal Implementation Plans affecting the disabled, housing is increasingly an area which is under the media microscope.

Dawn Robinson, Marketing & PR Manager at Guinness South, realised that the organisation as a whole needed to be better prepared to engage with the media. The aim was to equip Guinness South to embrace media interest and meet adverse coverage head-on, with timely, informed comment; as well as proactively releasing positive news stories to balance things up.

To achieve this, Dawn commissioned comprehensive media training for all senior personnel and spokespeople. Media Friendly was awarded the contract based on its public sector and housing experience and expertise. The company is a public sector dedicated Communications organisation and has worked with approximately 40 Housing Associations and 60 Local Authorities across the UK over the last 15 years. Media Friendly has a long association with The Guinness Partnership as well as the Housing departments of many local councils.

The Challenge

A firm brief was developed.

The first aim was to raise awareness of the role of the media and the function of the press office within Guinness South. The goal was to create a grass roots movement throughout the organisation feeding the facts to a network of communications champions, who have the confidence and skills to provide incisive, hard-hitting answers to media enquiries or help showcase good practice and positive initiatives.

The focus for this particular training was on traditional news and broadcast media – newspapers, radio and television – with an emphasis on local and regional media as well as trade publications from the housing sector such as Inside Housing and 24housing. Specific media relations essentials such as crisis media management and proactive PR introduced both specific and generic media skills equally relevant to key target audiences, such as local media and trade press, as well as secondary targets, including the national media.

The Solution

Media Friendly’s proposal had three main strands to be delivered over 18 months.

A Media Awareness Seminar for 15 members of the Senior Management Team

Buy-in from the Senior Management Team (SMT) was vital for successful change and favourable outcomes. This half-day seminar introduced the functions of the media, explaining the vital importance of engaging, the job of the in-house Press Office and the crucial role and challenges faced by the SMT in responding to urgent media enquiries and facilitating the communication of positive news proactively.

Empowering, Media Skills Workshops

These fulfilled two aims:

  1. To brief and media train additional senior spokespeople across Guinness South.
  2. To help existing communications experts enhance and hone their media skills.

This was about empowering people to deal with the media more confidently, to understand the tactics journalists employ and help Guinness South spokespeople gain control and confidence during media interviews.

Four, full day interactive workshops involved around 20 participants from across Guinness South, learning in small groups of 5-6 people. The sessions worked on Media Friendly’s core ‘one-to-one training in a group format’, for personalised skills development and peer-to-peer style learning together as a team. The emphasis was on practice-based learning, with individual video playback analysis and supportive critical feedback from the course tutor as well as the group. An added benefit was the team-building aspect of the training – with everyone having to face potentially hostile media interviews in front of microphones and cameras.

Topics included:

  • How the media works: the role of journalists, the role of the spokesperson
  • Responding to the media quickly and effectively: producing timely, hard-hitting key messages and statements that address the issue; following the internal media protocols of Guinness South
  • Interview technique: preparing quickly, taking control and handling difficult questions
  • Potential media crises: identifying potential issues and halting or addressing their momentum
  • Identifying good news stories: preparing a brief for the press officer or spokesperson and delivering a successful media interview on a positive topic, against a sceptical journalist

The training was grounded in practice and tailor-made, not just for Guinness South, but for each participant and their specific role. Media Friendly’s Andrew Carapiet, a former BBC Local Government Correspondent and News Producer for National BBC News, delivered the training throughout. Andrew developed highly interactive, realistic media interview scenarios for each participant – around which to build realistic, real-life media interviews in a safe environment. The media scenarios included classic housing issues – such as the death of a tenant from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, Anti-social behaviour which has not been curbed, Neighbours from Hell allegedly going unchecked, as well as more recent issues such as Welfare Reform changes and cuts to the Housing Budget leading to possible job losses and cuts to services.

Maintaining flexibility, the training was held at Guinness South offices in Milton Keynes and Stratford, in addition to away day style learning at Media Friendly’s Grade II listed, Cedar House, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. This took staff out of their normal routine and environment and gave participants a chance to examine issues from a fresh viewpoint.

Train the trainer

The Train the Trainer programme creates a team of skilled media trainers, in-house.
The existing communications experts within Guinness South learnt how to foster and develop new media spokespeople with their own in-house training programme. This added a vital element of sustainability to the project, potentially increasing the network of media-trained staff, without additional cost.

Ongoing support

Six months on, Media Friendly was on hand with advice and support to oversee Guinness South’s handling of a specific media issue, as part of their hands on, after-care programme – offered at no further cost. We ran a mock radio interview with a key member of Guinness South’s SMT down the phone, at very short notice, to mimic what he would have to face early the next morning on BBC Radio and Regional TV. This reassured the Director and gave him the confidence to face the seemingly daunting challenge in a more assured way.

The Outcomes

As a direct result of Media Friendly’s comprehensive, intuitive and tailored training, our interaction with the media has increased, giving Guinness South a stronger voice in local and regional media as well as the housing trade press, creating positive opportunities for our organisation.

Our new found skills have translated into greater confidence, effectiveness and co-ordination in dealing with the media, inspiring and empowering a base network of spokespeople to engage fully with journalists, in order to safeguard and enrich our reputation. The balance between negative and positive media coverage has been addressed successfully.

— Dawn Robinson, Marketing & PR Manager at Guinness South

About Guinness South

Guinness South is part of The Guinness Partnership, one of the largest affordable housing and care providers in the country, which owns and manages more than 60,000 homes and provides housing and care services for 120,000 customers. Guinness South provides affordable homes and services in London, South East England, the East of England and the South Midlands.

About Media Friendly

Media Friendly is one of the UK and Europe’s most respected Communications, Media Training and PR companies and was founded in 1998 by Andrew Carapiet and Moya Fillmore. It is a public sector specialist which has shared this knowledge and expertise with an increasing number of private sector clients.

Media Friendly has worked with over three hundred organisations over the last fifteen years and run training courses for over five thousand participants, including Chief Executives, Directors, Senior Executives, Senior Managers, Council Leaders and Cabinet Members from many of the UK’s leading institutions, companies and organisations from both the public and private sectors.

2 September 2013

By Andrew Carapiet

The death of Sir David Frost filled me with sadness over the weekend, because he was one of the main reasons I entered journalism. Many years later, as a Producer on BBC Breakfast News, I had the opportunity to meet him, when the programme Breakfast with Frost was launched in 1993. I worked as a Producer on that programme for a short while and can personally testify he was a charming man.

By then, his whole interviewing style had changed, and many of us in the newsroom viewed him as a soft touch, which was why so many politicians fell over themselves to be interviewed by him on the famous sofa.

But experience had taught him that you did not have to be Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys, to get the truth out of politicians and world leaders – to dig out “the story”. There are many different ways to skin a cat and while it was probably Frost and the late Sir Robin Day who practically invented broadcast political interviewing, Frost’s style softened over the years, just as his career crossed so many boundaries – from satire, to news, to political interviewing, to just about everything including “Through the Keyhole”.

I personally learned a lot from Frost over my ten year BBC career, where early on, I was a political reporter for BBC Radio, interviewing many big names of the time including Mrs Thatcher and most of her Cabinet. What I learned from Frost was that it was the quality of the question that counted, not necessarily the level of aggression in your voice or manner.

Many years later, working as a Producer on Breakfast with Frost, I noticed that he worked incredibly hard to make important interviews seem natural and effortless.

If it wasn’t for Sir David Frost, I might never have become a journalist and later on shared my knowledge and experience with all of Media Friendly’s clients to help them get their stories and messages out effectively.

I certainly have a lot to thank him for.

Andrew Carapiet was a former BBC Television Producer for National News programmes broadcast by the BBC and founded Media Friendly as a Communications and Media Training organisation with Moya Fillmore in 1998.

5 July 2013

social media training for gp consortia

Improve communications through different media channels

Having attended two major NHS conferences in recent weeks, Media Friendly is impressed with stakeholders’ determination to make current changes in the NHS truly workable, for the benefit of all patients.

At the NHS Confederation in Liverpool and the NHS Commissioning Show in London, many Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) spoke eagerly of their commitment to provide efficient, locally-sensitive and customer-focused support to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). However, the challenges facing GPs are vast, with a need for roles and responsibilities to be re-defined – and not all CCGs and GPs have yet embarked on this level of interaction with the CSUs.

Dissatisfied patients already turn to the media for a second opinion. In times of change, journalists can be ruthless and in talking to the media GPs are treading a fine line like never before, as they take on a wider role.

Going forward, some CCGs will commission media training from NHS specialists such as Media Friendly’s Andrew Carapiet, to help develop key spokespeople who can avoid media pitfalls. It’s about knowing what to say, how much to say and when to say it, to communicate effectively with the public and appropriately safeguard reputations.

Summer is nearly here, which means it’s time now to plan for the autumn and the hive of activity that kicks off after the break. Handling the media is a professional skill with a set of tools and techniques that can be learnt and practiced. Are you ready for change?

24 May 2013

Many councils have been engaging with Social Media at a corporate level for several years and have recognised its growing importance in communicating with residents and visitors. 
Some are just using Twitter to promote news releases, events and updates, such as severe weather warnings, others are much more engaged. 
But when it comes to councillors, it seems that it’s just a handful of them in every council that are actively participating, using Facebook and Twitter daily, there are still far too many who are frankly, too terrified to tweet.
What’s holding them back?
Mostly it’s fear of the unknown, not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing and damaging their reputation. That’s not surprising when a “stupid tweet” becomes headline news that leads to disciplinary action and potential prosecution.
So your councillors need to know that there are guidelines and protocols in place that will give them the security they need to get involved.
Some may also need practical, “hands on” support to help them set up accounts and enthuse them with ideas that will help them really engage with their communities
How can we help?
We start at the heart of communications, so firstly we work with your Communications Team, helping them devise their strategy and social media protocol. Knowing that this is in place will increase confidence and give you the guidelines that are needed to protect and enhance your reputation.
We can then run a Social Media Awareness Seminar for your Elected Members, designed to educate, enlighten and enthuse them, so they feel able to take part.
Finally we give them the “hands on” help that they require in our Practical Social Media Skills session. This will empower them with the tools that they need to really get involved.

1 May 2013

Your Royal Reputation – And How To Preserve It

In this fast turning media world reputations are won and lost overnight. With the spotlight last week on doping issues at one of the world’s best known horse racing stables, it was a matter of hours before Godolphin’s reputation took a battering worse than Becher’s Brook on Grand National Day – and that’s despite an erstwhile royal reputation befitting its princely owner, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates.

The stench of more than just horse manure is sure to linger.

And whilst we all love a good race horse, they’re best kept on the course and away from our dinner plates. Recent revelations that the UK’s teatime favourite, the humble beef burger, has become the Lance Armstrong of the food world, has driven a coach and horses through food safety issues. The scandal has raced across Europe revealing a continent-wide breakdown in the traceability of food in the supply chain, with ever-more beef products testing positive for horse meat and other interlopers – with or without banned veterinary drugs to boot.

So what are the food safety experts telling us?

  • That test results indicate food fraud rather than an immediate health risk
  • That Europe is seeking a continent-wide solution – we’re in this together
  • That tighter controls, stiffer sanctions and higher penalties are coming

It’s all fairly reassuring. We’re in crisis, but action is being taken.
Rebuilding reputation post-catastrophe is challenging. From the outset damage limitation is key. Releasing the right statements, at the right time, via the right channels can minimise fallout. That means preparing now; being ready to meet the crisis head on from day one by engaging with the media and social media.

There’s help to be had and new media skills to learn, but if you need coaching, learn from the Godolphin crisis – be sure to engage a ‘trainer’ that knows the rules…

1 May 2013

Without warning the lives of innocent, ordinary families have been devastated. The legacy of the Boston Marathon bombings feels particularly cruel and unnecessary, with three killed and many of the 180 injured or maimed being avid sportsmen and women. In the recent Texas fertiliser plant explosion, 15 were killed and more than 160 people were injured. The two are linked only by the random and unexpected nature of the way in which the victims are claimed.

Questions will again be asked about what can be done to safeguard the innocent either from accident or terrorism. Equally, yet again we are thankful for the meticulous training and professionalism of the emergency services. Despite the lack of warning, these brave teams arrived within moments, delivering aid to the victims and some semblance of order to the carnage.

As footage of ‘the aftermath’ unfurls in real-time across television and internet channels, reporters and presenters across the globe grapple to deliver the facts. Media spokespeople for event organisers, plant owners, police and other emergency services, step forward to deliver key messages, sourcing information directly from their teams on the ground in well-honed procedures. They are every bit as prepared to handle their role as the medics, the ambulance crews and the surgeons. They expect the unexpected and they plan for it. Is your communications team trained and ready to react?

23 April 2013

In recent days, the sparks of passionate debate instantly re-ignited by the death of Margaret Thatcher have brought its own reminder of a divided Britain. The state and political eulogies, set against the extensive ‘death celebrations’, place Britain’s first woman prime minister firmly in two camps: Political Marmite and Political Dynamite.

Around the world the coverage is less inflamed. Margaret Thatcher is hailed as a pioneer for women and politics, but she was also a break-through figure in terms of modern political communications. Together with her advisors Tim Bell and Bernard Ingham, Maggie Thatcher became a political PR explorer presenting a carefully honed image and carefully woven – some might say spun – campaigns and broadcasts. She used political rhetoric to reshape attitudes. She used PR stunts to win elections, helped hugely by a right wing dominated UK press. She conveyed in simple images and idiom what she believed and she was not afraid to meet her combatants head on.

So, was Thatcher an ‘Iron Lady’ who rescued the UK and modernised its economy, or an elitist who repressed the working classes and crippled British industry? The debate will rage on throughout history and there can be no conclusive answer. What is clear is that twenty years after Margaret Thatcher ceased to be prime minister her most famous phrases are still remembered, repeated and utilised by her own generation and those that follow: If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

The Guardian described the 87-year-old as “the most dominant British prime minister since Winston Churchill in 1940”. With the upcoming County Council elections taking place across the UK on Thursday 2 May 2013, perhaps the real question is who’s next? But candidates should remember one vital lesson about Maggie’s success. Love her or loathe her, the public absolutely knew what they were voting for – or against!

8 April 2013

Following intense debate, politicians have recently taken a scalpel to the NHS, but whether this is cosmetic surgery or a life-saving operation remains to be seen. With £65 billion of NHS funding flowing through the arteries of 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) from April, the media and the public will undoubtedly be questioning the prognosis.

Dissatisfied patients already seek a second opinion from the media, but from April, GPs will no longer be answering solely for themselves or their practice. As a vital organ, GPs will be required to safeguard the reputation of the CCG as a whole. While it’s often hard to criticise an individual, it’s much easier to criticise an organisation.

GPs need to rise to the challenges of dealing with the media. They need to understand what to say, how much to say and when to say it – or their words could become an intravenous drip, feeding media coverage and keeping the story alive. Handling the media is a professional skill with a set of tools and techniques that can be learnt and practiced. Learning this ‘First Aid’ now, could spare GPs and CCGs the casualties of the future.

6 March 2013

The Client: The Association of North East Councils

Professionalism, excellence and commitment are the three words that most spring to mind from the feedback we’ve received from those who have participated in, and benefited, from your highly effective approach to media training.

— Hilary Knox, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of North East Councils

The Project Overview

Local government authorities across the North East were facing sweeping changes. Twenty-five councils were set to become twelve; the introduction of Unitary Authorities would affect everyone from the council tax payers to the chief executive officers. Effective communication with all stakeholders was vital.

The North East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership had funding to improve communications in the region. A key component involved council interaction with the media. The Association of North East Councils, representing the region’s (then) twenty-five local authorities, was tasked with commissioning comprehensive media training for all councillors and key spokespersons. A competitive pitch involving media trainers from across the UK resulted in Media Friendly being awarded the contract, based primarily on its local government expertise.

The Challenge

A firm brief was developed with three main threads.

In a time of uncertainty and change, councillors and officers across all local authorities needed to work together to deliver core messages. The Association of North East Councils wanted to improve communication between local councils and their citizens, partners and the media to encourage greater interest, participation and engagement in local government in the North East.

In an arena traditionally associated with top down communications, the challenge was to create an ethos of bottom up communications and an all-round confidence in engaging the media, for councillors and officers to help them communicate achievements and successes – as well as challenges – facing the sector.

There was also a desire to enhance the image, perception and reputation of the local government sector on a national stage and gain recognition of the North East’s success stories with a range of opinion formers and decision makers.

The Solution

photo by davedawson

In total the project lasted a year delivering more than thirty, full day, empowering media workshops to approximately 180 individuals. Cross council networking was a key element of this programme’s success. Six representatives, each from a different council, attended each training day, which helped develop a new web of communication lines between authorities.

The project clearly needed an understanding of local government ethos. Media Friendly’s Andrew Carapiet, a former BBC local government correspondent, journalist and communications expert, delivered the training throughout, bringing consistency with unrivalled commitment and experience.

Aware of the challenges and vital role faced by elected members who are often first-in-line to talk to the media, the training began with councillors and was followed up with a second round for all senior officers and key spokespersons.

The training was tailor-made. Andrew developed realistic, regional training scenarios based on his extensive research into the North East and the individual councils involved; for example, exercises were based around the Future of the North-East Coast Mainline Railway and the £1billion regeneration plans for Gateshead town centre.

Workshops covered both pro-active PR and crisis media relations across print, television and radio. Topics included:

How media works: what journalists want; identifying news value; meeting deadlines

  • Protocols for handling a media enquiry
  • Interview technique and handling difficult questions
  • Taking control of interviews
  • How to prepare quickly

This was in 2008, a time before social media.

The sessions worked on Media Friendly’s core ‘one-to-one training in a group format’. The emphasis was on the practical, with individual video playback analysis and supportive critical feedback from the group.

The Outcomes

Councillors and officers developed a new understanding in handling the media. They built up their skills to take control of interviews, defuse awkward questions and identify positive newsworthy articles.

The cross-council element of the training naturally developed a network of contacts for councillors and officers across all twenty-five councils in the North East. This fostered joined up thinking and opened up opportunities to work together, both within communications and on other projects

Politicians and officers came away from the training equipped with the skills necessary to deal effectively with a range of press and broadcast media interviews. It helped them articulate credible and authoritative messages about local government, demonstrate leadership, as well as explain, inform and help stimulate interest in local decision –making.

“Given the significant changes – and indeed exciting opportunities – taking place in local government in the North East, I don’t underestimate the importance of the training Media Friendly has provided in helping the sector to step up to the mark in how it communicates and presents itself to the outside world.”

– Hilary Knox, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of North East Councils

6 March 2013

With the advent of social media and twitter in particular it seems the long arm of the law is stretching ever-further into the ether. High profile tweets that are at best #stupid and at worst #illegal populate the news. Recently-introduced guidelines from the Crown Prosecution Service show that UK lawyers rapidly need to determine the #humorous from the #vindictive. Social media law is being defined #rightnow.

By contrast, courtroom procedure and the UK’s legal system are based upon rigid rules, steeped in history. The lawyer who best knows the rules employs them to his advantage. But the same can be said of the media and social media in terms of using them for strategic communications or simply minimising negative coverage. Whether there’s a media scrum on the courthouse steps or a virtual media frenzy, lawyers need to understand pre-determined rules of engagement.

There’s a Brave New Virtual World out there that is highly influential. Failing to engage is like cutting off your nose to spite your facebook.

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