work lives

Understandably when the initial Sky story broke there was a flurry of calls from journalists asking “is it true?” “What do you know?” While it wasn’t my job to confirm the rumours, Unite members needed to hear that their union was speaking up them and their industry. After discussions with colleagues and officers responsible for BAE I drafted a press

release for approval that stated the case for our members’ jobs and pointed the finger at the government for spending increasing amounts of the defence budget overseas, rather than supporting British manufacturing. It was a theme we expanded on the following

day when the news broke that the job losses were actually nearly double the rumoured amount and encompassed BAE’s marine division. We were prepared for went it came. I issued a press release that had been agreed overnight within two minutes of the announcement. Our convenors were on standby and the deluge began.

The team and myself always try and write a press release that is in essence a self-contained news story, giving Unite’s spin on events along with the facts. Get that right and in the case of BAE and other big announcements where the company actually gives a breakdown of job losses, you can largely focus on dealing with the requests for interviews from broadcast media. With BAE as with similar announcements, my

attention along with the team’s will quickly turn to juggling interview bids between regional and national spokespeople. As a rule I accompany our key spokespeople while they are doing a round of interviews so they are briefed, aware of developments and stay focused on our key messages. On the day of the BAE announcement Steve

Turner was in the hot seat for Unite. A live hit on BBC’s news channel followed by a pre-record for BBC Look East, then Channel 5 news outside parliament was followed by a round of local radio for the BBC and Sky News Radio. The day was completed with an interview with the BBC’s Business Editor talking about the loss of Britain’s manufacturing capacity. Days like BAE can be breathless at times and the feeling of helping make a real difference to

people’s lives, like with Sports Direct, are immeasurable. The overriding factor though, be it a ‘big’ or ‘small’ media day, in what I and the team at Unite do, is articulating Unite members’ point of view, their hopes, their fears and importantly what they want to see happen. While we beaver away behind the scenes, we will occasionally get a word of thanks from members making the job doubly worthwhile. This can take many forms. Remember that couple I mentioned earlier? It turned out they were both Unite members, one a steel worker and the other a local government worker who insisted on buying the third class of red. Cheers!

24-hour news

Ah the halcyon days of cooking up a story over a two hour lunch and faxing out press releases. They were gentler times. As journalism has changed, so has the job of union communications officers. At Unite we have a team of campaign and

media officers working tightly with specialist social media colleagues and journalists on our digital publication Unite Live. While the press release is still the preferred method for getting a message to the media the job doesn’t stop there. Each press release is proofed and checked

for house style, before being released to relevant media. It’s then uploaded on to Unite’s website, shared via social media and then refashioned for Unite Live. Most days we will have what is effectively

a news list of press releases, stories and announcements that we plan to respond to. With breaking stories, speed is of the essence in the world of digital media. Quite often we’ll tweet and feed an initial line to media, with a fuller response following on. In a typical month we’ll generate around 2,000 Unite mentions across all print, online and broadcast media. For campaigns and disputes we’ll

cover a demo or stunt with vox pops, video and pictures, which will form content across our digital media and social media. While the basics of a strong message

and joined up communications never change, the rapidity of the news cycle and immediacy of digital media means union communication professionals have

had to become increasingly need to be fleet of foot.

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