Stephen Howe Consulting

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Stephen Howe Consulting news articles

AMI news

As mountaineers we spend a great deal of our time preparing for and thinking about demanding situations which we may never get into. Dealing with the media in the event of an incident is one of those situations which deserve the same thought, preparation and training.

In a news-hungry world where pictures and interviews have an immediate global audience, getting it right in front of the media has never been more important.

I have now been both sides of the tracks as a journalist and as a working MIC holder.   As the former Director of Communications for The Outward Bound Trust, an organisation like many others with a potential news story every time it took a group into the outdoors, I knew adventurous activities would always prove attractive for journalists.   A journalist's view of a story is worth understanding and here is an example.

As a young Coventry reporter I was sent to a minor derailment of the Coventry to London business commuter train at Rugby. No one was hurt, hardly a cup of coffee spilt. Not much of a story you might think but the train was packed and I managed to get someone to say it was a "miracle" that no-one was hurt.

News journalists write what people want to read and my story started: "Hundreds of Coventry's top business people had a "miraculous" escape this morning when their train derailed just half an hour after leaving for the capital." It doesn't take much imagination to understand what some news journalists would make of a minor "derailment" in the outdoors.

My experience of MIA and MIC holders is that they are often highly skilled communicators, capable of inspiring people to believe in their potential and ability to achieve great things, which is a sound platform on which to develop media-wise skills for those occasions when we encounter the print or broadcast media.

We invest time staying up to date with developments in mountaineering, coaching and our legal status and liability. As technicians it would be hard to find fault, and we have an inherent ability to make good decisions but when it comes to dealing with the media how do we perform?   Not preparing for that eventuality is high risk. High risk for the individual, their organisation and our profession.

There are three media situations which AMI members could find themselves in:

  1. As commentators

In this situation the storyline could be positive or negative. It could be about the growth of the outdoor sector generally or commentating on an incident or fatality. One of the standard tactics for a journalist is to find someone who is prepared to put the opposite view or who will deliver the "it was an accident waiting to happen" line. Being a commentator is apparently a benign role but the stakes are high for your reputation and your relationship with your fellow professionals. Pressed by a half decent journalist it is easy to slip into speaking on behalf of the whole outdoor industry without any mandate and without all the facts at your disposal.

  1. As Publicists

Positive and regular media exposure can be the life blood of a sole trader or outdoor organisation, and getting more than your fair share of it can be achieved by knowing how journalists think and the pressures that are on them to produce readable stories. Attracting the attention of a national newspaper is a very different proposition to getting a picture and a few paragraphs in the local paper.

  1. As tough as it gets

The media firestorm in the first few hours after an incident can instil a sense of fear even for the very brave but with a simple aide memoire and regular practice these situations can be well managed by most of us. We don't need to use much imagination to think of a typical "tough as it gets" situation. Normally an accident but equally it could be mal practice of some sort and a journalist asking you "just how much personal responsibility do you take for this tragedy?"

For a small enterprise an accident or mal practice could be terminal for the business and that's sufficient reason to maintain the highest of professional standards in front of the camera by demonstrating appropriate REGRET, giving appropriate REASONS for the incident if they are known, and explaining what the potential REMEDY could be. Alarmingly, your audience will place more value on how you look, and how you deliver your message than on the well crafted content. That means you have to practice.

Not surprisingly I don't subscribe to the view that journalists are a scourge of society - they have a job to do and in almost every case do it very well and add value to our understanding, knowledge and entertainment.

When you are about to be interviewed by one of them live on GMTV and you can hear someone in your earpiece counting down "5...4...and now we go to The Lake District to speak to...." you need to rely on professional training, your grasp of the key messages you wish to deliver and an understanding of what the TV audience will make of what you are about to say. Good Luck!

SHC uses a team of journalists and camera crew to deliver media training to professionals in the outdoor sector. For more information email mail at stephenhowe.co.uk , call 01768 878003 or 07881 503275 or visit www.stephenhowe.co.uk .


© 2007 Stephen Howe Consulting