Manging the communications of an election count can be a nervy time. Aad a high profile politician and a large media pack to the mix and you’ve a testing night ahead of you.
by Louisa Dean
If you were ivolved in them last week then most of you will still have blisters on your feet from the election, and maybe still feeling tired as you’ve not really slept properly since some time last week.
But, I am sure all of you relished every minute of the election.
I definitely did – one of our two counts involved the Prime Minsiter, Theresa May (and Elmo, and Lord Buckethead).
Here are my tips for dealing with the media at a high profile count.
Forward plan – As soon as the election was called, I emailed my local media contacts to make sure they were on the accreditation list early on. I also met with the pooled media team and the broadcast media within the first three weeks to make sure we understood each other’s requirements on the night. I spoke to the Comms Manager at West Oxfordshire, luckily we worked at neighbouring authorities a few years previously, and she shared some good points, including her accreditation form that I used.
Be flexible – Trying to organise accreditation for 135 media types is always going to be difficult. We had changes coming in several hours prior to the count but by working with the media we made sure everyone who needed to be in the count was in the count.
Be clear – I made sure I met (almost) every one of the media that attended the count. Between me and the other three members of the comms team, we were clear about what would happen when we were ready to declare and how we would work with them to ensure they had the best vantage points for photos. It really helped the media and meant when it happened, they all knew what they were doing.
Work as a team – I had three of the comms team working with me on the night. We had talked about what we wanted to acheive in the weeks before but on the night, due to the speed of events, we didn’t manage to do it all. I had two comms officers in the Windsor count, which was in a different hall, who did a sterling job in tweeting and adding the results to the website. In the Maidenhead room, it was slightly different. There was a media stage with a huge amont of media asking a variety of questions, we didn’t get time to tweet the first ballot box arriving but we did make sure the media were happy. The comms team have a what’s app group and we used that a lot on the night.
Work with the pooled media – The BBC were filming the events for the broadcast channels and after the local media they were my next priority. We tested the walk in to the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead for them, we put their camera in the best position for the declaration and we tried to get the results to them before it was announced. They were really pleased with how the coverage looked on TV and it is important to talk them through what you think will happen to make sure they get the best camera angles.
Working with the project team – The Acting Returning Officer set up a project team within hours of the election being called. It was vital that the comms team were part of that. We were able to hear what would be happening on the night and able to let the key people know what we were anticipating from the media. The Acting Returning Officer knew what the plans were on the night and she met some of the media on the night. The head of security knew what was happening at key moments which helped make the process run smoothly and the elections manager was also informed of what I needed for the media
Don’t panic – Difficult as this may be as everything you had planned might not happen but you have to go with the flow. Certain points and elements that you had tried to organise just didn’t happen. We really wanted to film the results but it didn’t happen.
Rest – Make sure you have nothing planned for the weekend following the election. All I have done is sleep and write this post.
Louisa Dean is communications and marketing manager at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead