Could media training help project a positive image of the industry? Elaine Knutt speaks to the advocates
If your Local Radio Station invited you to talk about the significance of your new project, would you feel comfortable accepting the invitation? Or, to take one step backwards, is the local radio station even likely to know about the existence of your project in the first place? If the answer to one or both questions is “no”, then perhaps it would be worthwhile considering a course in media training.
Courses are usually offered by former or practising journalists, and typically cover mock interviews, tips on getting your message across and insights into what journalists will be hoping to get from you. Some courses also cover pitching ideas to editors and producers, creating a pathway for you and your project to the media.
Although many construction companies would put media training low on the list of current training priorities, several believe it worthwhile. Recently, the EC Harris team involved in refurbishing the pods on the London Eye was put through its paces in expectation of media interest in the story, while Hill International hired London-based Impact Factory to coach Keith Pickavance in handling the media during his term as CIOB president.
Deborah Ley, a principal surveyor at the City of London Corporation, would “100% recommend it”. She recently attended a course run by Lefevre Media and organised by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science and Engineering. “I went in thinking there wouldn’t be any chance of me speaking to any [journalist] about what I do, but actually, it’s just about sharing information,” she says.
Ley highlights the key principles that she’s now trying to put into practice in her role, which includes responsibility for running Grade II listed Leadenhall Market, a potential repository of media stories.
First, the trainers advised being topical, and linking the story you’d like to highlight with an item in the news. By “piggy backing” on interest in a topic, it’s easier for your story to hook the attention of the general public.
Secondly, the trainers’ advice was to avoid being overly technical. “In construction, when you’re thinking about how to explain things, other people working in the same environment will automatically know what you mean. But most people outside the industry won’t know what an RSJ is, so you have to explain it,” she says.
Other interview tips included thinking of the three key points you want to get across in the interview, and letting the interviewer do their job and lead the interview with their questions.
Press releases should be kept short and punchy, and written with the aim of getting the journalist to call back for more information. If aimed at print publications they should always be accompanied by pictures, while press releases intended for TV or radio stations should always give the contact details of people available for interview.
Overall, Ley now feels more confident about inviting media interest, then handling it competently. And she also believes that the general public has an unsatisfied appetite for information about construction. “People like construction from childhood, and as professionals we can tap into that.”
TV journalist Barbara Govan is a director of Leeds-based Screenhouse Productions, which makes factual TV programmes as well as offering media training courses. Screenhouse tailors its courses to professionals with a technical specialism who may need extra coaching on how to “translate” their expertise for a general audience: recent clients include scientists from the Wellcome Trust, university academics and solicitors.
To help participants understand the difference between how they speak to their peers and their friends, training sessions start with a practical exercise.
“We get people to tell a personal story and then do a professional presentation. That’s when the light goes on for them – they realise that when they do the presentation, they put up a facade, a barrier – they’re not as passionate and straightforward as they were in the first exercise,” says Govan, whose TV work includes a documentary with Arup called Why did the Millennium Bridge Wobble?
“It’s about finding out what your story is and telling it in an engaging and easy to understand way,” she continues. “Can you talk about a project with the same passion and clarity that you would talking about wine tasting, travelling or some other pursuit? If you are the expert on both, why should one be great to listen to and the other a bit dull and impenetrable?”
The firm offers two courses: Media Skills for Specialists focuses on being interviewed, getting yourself, your project or company into the media, and writing press releases. The second, on Effective Personal Presentation Skills, covers how you look, sound and present information to other people, plus techniques with voice, posture and body language.
Govan stresses that media training can boost the effectiveness of trainees who never go near a TV camera or a radio studio. “It might be about appearing on TV but it could be about presenting a new project, applying for funding or approval – we think it needs the same skills.”
But speaking as a TV journalist, Govan believes that construction has untapped potential for factual TV programming. “Some channels might want a technical approach, others might want the stories of the workers themselves, stories of endurance with an uplifting ending – think of Ice Road Truckers. But access is really important, as is a willingness to follow a project warts and all,” she concludes.
Have you ever been in front of the cameras? Email us or post a comment at www.construction-manager.co.uk
Back to basics: Statutory scheme consultation
Part 8 of the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, which amends the 1996 Construction Act, comes into force only once the underlying statutory scheme is amended. Consultation on industry views on the scheme closes on 18 June. Given that the scheme will be implied into more contracts (oral contracts will also be covered) these changes will have a real impact in the industry.
The proposal seeks to prevent “fetters” to adjudication where the sub-contract stated that any referring party would pay all the costs and expenses incurred by both parties. The proposal is that the parties are free to reach agreements on costs, but only after the notice to refer a dispute to adjudication has been issued.
The draft scheme also proposes allowing the adjudicator to “correct his decision so as to remove a clerical or typographical error arising by accident or omission”, with seven days’ latitude after delivering the decision.
On payment, new sections set out a default mechanism which allows the payee to give the payer a “payment notice” where the payer has omitted to do so, and introduce a requirement to pay the sum set out in the payment notice. It also requires the payer to give notice to the other party if he intends to pay less than that sum.
Currently, an adjudicator cannot deal with more than one dispute under the contract at the same time unless both parties agree. The consultation asks whether this position should change.
It also asks whether the adjudicator should have the free-standing power to award interest, even if there is no contractual provision for it.
To take part, please see http://www.bis.gov.uk/Policies/business-sectors/construction/construction-act-review
Hamish Lal is head of construction at solicitor Jones Day, London