Talking to the media: Top tips to help you prepare

We all know that the building safety crisis is far from over – but the public will only know that if they hear our stories in the media. Fresh stories can help to keep the campaign alive, and knowing that you can step up and do something practical to help the campaign can feel empowering too.

Writer, director and filmmaker Reece Lipman is a leaseholder caught up in the cladding scandal who has shared his story in a wide range of local and national press, radio and TV outlets.

In this guest blog, Reece shares his top tips to help you prepare for media interviews and feel more confident about sharing your story.

1 – Think about your target audience: Who are you ultimately trying to speak to by telling your story? Is it your local council or MP? Is it the Housing Minister? Is it building regulators? Or is it other people in the same situation as yourself? Knowing who you want to reach will help shape how you frame your story and it may also shape which outlet you choose to speak to. For example, if you want to get the attention of your local council or your MP, talking to your local paper is one of the best things you can do. But if you want major high street lenders to rethink their policy, then outlets like Which? or FT may be better. Knowing who you’re targeting will also help you to adjust your language – for example, using language that’s more or less technical, depending on who you want to address.

2 – Have a clear intention from the outset: Why are you doing this particular interview? What do you want the reader, viewer or listener to understand? Ask yourself those questions before doing an interview, as it will shape everything that comes next. For example, when talking to a journalist from the trade press, you know that people from the building industry will be reading it, so your intent may be to make them understand the impact on residents’ lives when remediation work is delayed, or to get them to engage more with residents. But a national tabloid paper is read by members of the public, so the intent there could be to gain more awareness and support for the campaign or encourage others to come forward and join the good fight. Every media interaction is different, so be clear why you are doing this specific piece and what you want the reader/viewer/listener to walk away knowing, thinking or feeling.

3 – Prepare and plan: Never go into a media interview cold. You’ve thought about your intention, now you need to think about how you can achieve it. Yes, you’ll be telling your own story and, yes, you know exactly what you have been through, but it is still key that you prepare what you want to say. There are so many facets to every story and you won’t be able to tell a journalist every single part of your journey. So prepare the key points and the messages that you think will get the outcome you want and cut out anything that is going to cloud your messages. It’s also worth noting that when a journalist calls you, if you’re not able to speak right then, you could ask them to call you back at a better time. There is no harm in asking for a little time to prepare and collect your thoughts!

4 – Speak to a smart 12-year-old: Yes, really! Think of an actual 12-year-old and imagine you’re talking to them. If you’ve lived through the building safety crisis day and night for years, then you know what an EWS1 form and a PAS9980 report are, and you’ll have a basic understanding of building safety regulations. But not everyone knows this topic inside out like you do and, honestly, they don’t need to. So don’t make your language or story too complicated. Remember, most people will be listening to the news in passing or watching it whilst making dinner – it’s background noise and unlikely to be their main focus. If it’s too complicated, then they won’t take it in. But if they can understand it easily and really connect with what you’re saying, the cut through will be incredible. So talk to the reporter as if you’re talking to a smart 12-year-old, or an elderly aunt, or a colleague in the pub. Use simple, everyday language that you don’t need an architectural degree to understand.

5 – Don’t play tennis, play rugby: In tennis, you bat the ball back and forth until the rally comes to an end but in rugby, you hold onto the ball until you’ve carried it as far as you can. A media interview can be seen the same way. I am NOT saying it needs to be aggressive (and it most certainly shouldn’t be). But you should make the most of the opportunity to get your point across by taking the baton and running with it (to mix the sporting metaphors!). So don’t answer “yes” or “no” and pass the ball/interview straight back to the interviewer. Instead take the time you need to answer the question fully and explain your point.

This does come with a caveat: don’t make your answers an essay. If your answer is too long, the interviewer will have to cut you off just to keep things on track – 40-45 seconds is the sweet spot for an answer, especially for broadcast interviews (print is different as you’ll have a much longer chat that the journalist can select from).

6 – Think about the negative questions in advance: We’ve all heard the arguments and the negatives that might get thrown our way. The caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) response or the journalist asking why the taxpayer who doesn’t own a home should pay to fix your home. These arguments make no sense, but they are something we are all familiar with and know might come up. During your prep, think about your answers to such questions. This will help you to stay cool, calm and focused on your messages. If you’re not comfortable with any line of questioning, remember you can always say, “I don’t know about that, but what I can tell you is…”, and direct the conversation back to your point.

7 – Give examples and state your facts: There is no need to get into speculation or hyperbole or be drawn into aspects of the crisis you’re not sure about. Instead, focus on what you can confidently talk about and focus on the facts of your situation. Nobody can argue with your story so make sure that you tell it. You don’t need to be an expert to tell your own story. Give examples of how this whole crisis has affected you and your loved ones, tell the journalist what living through this has meant to you, and give them anecdotes about your life situation. An honest account of the human impact will cut through and, ultimately, this will have a really positive impact on the campaign.

8 – Just do it! A campaign lives and dies by the stories of the people it is here to help. Unless you speak for yourself, who will speak for you? It is vital that you speak out and keep the momentum of the last few years going.  Don’t forget to reach out if you need support and advice: there is always someone who has been there before who can help.

As well as reaching out to journalists directly, please consider adding your details to our campaign database so that the campaign team can share relevant case studies with journalists, both on request and proactively.

End Our Cladding Scandal

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign calls on the Government to lead an urgent, national effort to fix the building safety crisis.

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