The need for media training in social work

Due to my experiences I know the need for media training in social work and the ‘social world’. I’ve been interviewed for the media on a variety of subjects. The most dominant have included child abuse in all its forms with high profile cases involving death and serious injury and Government initiatives that publicly needed supporting, challenging or condemning—whatever day it was!  Frequently during high profile news stories I receive a constant stream of requests to speak to all forms of media where vulnerable people and social work were involved. My learning curve felt like a straight line up the face of a mountain. Lessons came hard and fast. The very day I was elected Chair of the British Association of Social Workers a journalist booked an interview to talk about what hopes I had for my term of office. He came to my hotel room and we talked for half an hour about all the issues of the day. Just as he was leaving, he turned and asked if it was right that I was taking child protection as the theme of my term of office. I said yes and he asked if there was much work to be done. Again I said yes and that was it. Next day, the headline in the newspaper read “New social work chief targets perverts!”

I could have reached this point much quicker, with less angst, if I’d only had some training and guidance. Media training in social work is logical as personally I found resolution of conflict is one strong aspect of social work training that moves across easily to media training. Assessment, negotiation, short and long term planning and people management are all used as tools to resolve conflict.

During the next five years, 83 % of companies will face a crisis that will negatively impact the profitability of that company by 20 to 30 percent, according to research by Oxford-Metrica, an independent adviser on risk, value, reputation and governance. Therefore, ‘Crisis management is the process by which the organization manages a wider impact, such as media relations, and enables it to commence recovery’.

It’s the same as any major insurance need. Do whatever you can to prevent incidents occurring but prepare well and create a sound plan that will cover most contingencies.

Firstly take a look at preventative measures. This is where all good customer care, health and safety checks and risk assessments are found. In short, you’re behaving in a way that demonstrates that you are a caring business. It’s here that crises planning should sit and whether it’s to do with the imminent arrival of a hurricane along a continental coastline, an injured individual on a school trip or the malfunction of a product, the principal is the same. Show you’ve taken all reasonable steps to prevent or, at least, prepare for unwanted incidents.

Sometimes there are variations on that theme and events occur that threaten the health of the company. An Act of God——- fire, flood, earthquake,—— an accident, an assault or a financial scandal can all spiral into blame situations where impressions and perceptions are influenced by the reporting of the event.

So, the creation of a clear plan that will cover most situations is the task. It’s basically the traditional ‘who, where and how’ formula.

A crises brings its own dynamic. The person who faces the media has to be fully briefed and knowledgeable. If there has been a terrible accident, for example, then the company must be seen to know all the detail about the nature of the activity, the safety measures that were in place, how many people were you responsible for sending and into what circumstances customers were sent. So, communication plans and protocols throughout the company will save time and money. And the best ethical plan puts any person first while trying to maintain the integrity of the company, wherever possible, as well. Not only should you put people first but you have to be seen to do so.

So, general media training in social work, or the selection of a few staff as spokespeople (with more focused training) and the creation of a media strategy to sit alongside fire safety, evacuation procedure, serious toxic incident response, health emergency etc, makes good sense.

Another often ignored requirement is the need to rehearse. A plan is fine sitting on the shelf but if no-one has tested it then the smallest detail could derail it.

Another preventative measure would be fostering relationships with the media, certainly at a local or regional level and hopefully wider. Remember that the media strategy is not just reactive but proactive too and all media have a voracious appetite for stories. All staff in key positions could benefit from media training.

So the production of good news stories in a professional way can bring positive benefits. How often have local authorities, when challenged about professional practice, confused confidentiality with secrecy and so missed another chance to work with the media?

Building this network inevitably creates relationships of sorts and these could be supportive in a crisis.

We all have had reason to complain about the media in one form or another but, as it’s responsible for probably 95% of our information and opinion forming, it’s the main window on the world for most of us.

That’s why at David Niven Associates we’ve put together media training courses. Our experience has shown that individuals and organisations can benefit from a variety of options—formal training, workshops, seminars or one to one consultation—-whatever is best for each situation.


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