05 Aug 2022

Media Network: Has silly season become extinct?

Welcome to the MHP Mischief Media Network bulletin. Our unrivalled team of former journalists and media experts bring you the latest insights behind the headlines.


Has silly season become extinct?

By Alan Tovey, former Daily Telegraph Industry Editor, and Keith Gladdis, former Daily Mail news editor.

“Sell in May and go away, don’t come back until St Leger day” is an old City saying. It basically means nothing happens in the markets from May, except a traditional minor retreat, until the St Leger Day Stakes horse race in September.

That leaves journalists scratching around for stories to fill their pages.

Everyone’s on holiday, Parliament’s in recess, there’s little real news so minor events get blown up to epic proportions.

This is silly season. It’s the time when every skateboarding dog can have their day in the sun and news editors whip up journalists to get creative… usually.

But silly season isn’t so silly anymore.

Colin Fernandez, the environment editor of the Daily Mail said: ‘There really hasn’t been a silly season this year. We’ve got a Conservative leadership campaign, a cost of living crisis, war in Europe and train strikes.

‘Even the traditional summer stories about hot weather have taken a serious turn as scientists warn 40c temperatures could soon become common due to global warming and water shortages.

‘Even the annual shark spotted off the coast of Cornwall story resulted in someone getting badly injured.’

Another (exhausted) national journalist said: ‘I don’t think there’s been a real silly season since the Brexit vote’.

What does it mean? It means stories need to be sharper to make the cut, even in August. There’s no break for the PR industry. The silly season has become serious.

Pharma companies are regularly under scrutiny from the media

Rosa Furneaux — Global Health Investigative Reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism explains what she is looking for. By Jaber Mohamed and Miles Watson.

How do you work with Pharma companies?

I’m interested in pharma because of its huge power and influence, illustrated during the pandemic, and the role they play in the wider healthcare landscape. I don’t think a pharma company has ever proactively reached out to me. But if one did it’s my job to have a healthy scepticism for what they tell me and think about what they’re not telling me. That said, I’d always follow the facts and explore the story. I can’t promise that I’d take the line the company was trying to push but I wouldn’t ignore a good tip.

Do you see a supportive role for Pharma companies in your investigations?

Most of the time I want to speak to pharma to get expert commentary on a story or to offer a potential solution to an issue I’ve uncovered. But often the challenge is getting access to the right people – especially when dealing with pharma companies outside the UK. Contacts details for comms teams are not always easily available and when I am able to get in touch the comms teams are too scared to speak to me.  My intention is not to attack pharma but to help build a fuller picture of the story.

Even when the pharma company is the subject of the investigation I want to offer them time and space to give their perspective rather than just include a statement or worse me having to write ‘ I approached them several times and got no response’.

What’s the best way for comms teams to work with you?

I’m interested in stories about access to medicines in the global south, maternal health, and I’m a specialist in sub-Saharan Africa. The nature of investigative work means I’m usually working on two or three pieces at a time but they usually have a six-month turnaround time. Usually, when I approach a company I need a response within a fortnight but there tends to be a fair bit of back and forth so don’t be surprised if I’ve got follow up questions. I’m also open to having background briefings and off the record conversations that can help inform my reporting.

For BBC Breakfast – it’s Location, Location, Location

by former ITN presenter and reporter Charlotte Grant

Want your business to appear live on BBC Breakfast? Its producers are hunting for interesting locations for its live broadcasts. The cost-of-living crisis is a major focus meaning producers are looking for new backdrops to bring those stories to life.

The show’s new Business Presenter Hannah Miller gave us the example of energy company Octopus, it gave access to a call centre team who were dealing specifically with customers who were struggling and needed to renegotiate their payments. The reporter was able to talk to the staff members doing the renegotiating to hear about the patterns in what they were hearing every day.

But any brands offering their office for filming need to give full access. BBC Breakfast want to speak to people from all levels, not just senior executives, as they usually do at least two live hits. Contact [email protected] to learn more.

To control an interview, keep it short

MHP Mischief’s Jaber Mohamed media trained senior figures including Matt Hancock, Professor Sir Chris Whitty and Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam when he worked at the Department of Health.

Here are his top tips:

Use the data to your advantage

A good stat can make an interview. I’d always make sure the people I briefed were in command of the facts supporting their message. Diane Abbott learned the hard way when forgot how much Labour’s plan to recruit 10,000 additional police officers would cost.

Answer the question

One of the things that makes scientists like Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam such effective communicators, is that they answer the questions being asked.

There was no attempt to dodge questions or give a banal ‘line to take.’ Answering the question being asked may not always be easy, but it makes audiences feel like you are being honest with them and therefore makes you more trusted.

Keep the interview slot short

Where possible always keep the interview slot shorter than you need. I typically never agreed to 1:1 interviews longer than 10 mins. It meant that if the interview was going poorly, I could step in and end it after 10 mins.  However, if it was going well (and the journalist didn’t have somewhere else to be) you always have the option to let it keep going for a little longer.

It provides you with a bit more control, which is usefully if your spokesperson is nervous or new to media interviews.

For more information on the MHP media training offer contact [email protected].

But any brands offering their office for filming need to give full access. BBC Breakfast want to speak to people from all levels, not just senior executives, as they usually do at least two live hits. Contact [email protected] to learn more.

At the Mail, we think about how it looks on the page

Francesca WashtellDeputy City Editor at The Mail on Sunday, spoke to Pete Lambie and Pauline Guenot about what she’s looking for in interviews, stories and campaigns.

What do you look for in the City & Business Sunday profile slot?  

Ideally it needs to be a big name, either a FTSE 100 or FTSE 250 CEO. We want someone with personality, who is willing to get into the detail of their industry and share their opinions. I would love to interview Jim Ratcliffe from Ineos but appreciate not every pitch will have someone of his stature.

If you are pitching a smaller company, it needs to come with a juicy story in line with a macro-trend. Whatever you do, don’t tell us the topics we can and can’t cover!

What makes a great SME Story?

The quirkier, the funnier, the punchier, the better.

Research and statistics is usually the best way in for SME coverage, but bear in mind that ‘small business says small businesses are struggling’ type stories can be a really hard story to write. If a story is research or data based, something outside of the box is more likely to land.

We don’t tend to use case studies we prefer to source them ourselves. If you have a brilliant case study-led small business story you’re best going to my colleagues at Money Mail.

The Daily Mail has recently relaunched its online version Mail+, what does this mean for you?

Currently, there are a couple of business stories that will directly go on Mail+ during the day, including the market report. With the Mail on Sunday, on Saturdays we put out a 5pm update which usually includes at least the city interview but (at the moment) we won’t publish our big scoops until Sunday.

More and more readers are engaging with it – it is a great interactive service. There is increasingly a shift to digital that we needed to respond to for our own readership of course, but we also wanted to appeal to a new audience.

It’s time to dispel myths about news and social media

By Jaber Mohamed, former senior advisor at the Department of Health.

Ofcom claims teenagers in the UK are increasingly getting their news from social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. At first glance this may seem to underscore the demise of print and broadcast news, but it is the wrong conclusion.

Social media platforms do not hire professional news reporters and social media users rarely do original journalism – they just share what they have read/seen from a traditional news source.

Traditional news organisations are also more active on social media platforms, BBC News has 22.4million followers on Instagram and Sky News has 1.8million followers on TikTok. So even if young people are getting more news from social media, it is very likely coming directly from a professional journalist.

Traditional news organisations remain very good at packaging information in a way that is accessible to their audience across a variety of platform.

This Ofcom data is not a reason to move away from traditional news media. Traditional news organisations are usually the source of the news content seen and shared on social media. It means getting your story into traditional media more important than ever.

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