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:

  • To brief and media train additional senior spokespeople across Guinness South.
  • 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.