Armitt review of UK infrastructure planning – a selection of media coverage & responses

I had the pleasure of advising and supporting my old boss, John Armitt, by developing and delivering the media and public relations strategy for his review of infrastructure decision making in the UK, published 5 September 2013.

Below is a selection of the media coverage and third party support and responses achieved and available online (Radio4 Today, 5 Live & Sky News interviews are not available) .

Sunday Times (preview): Labour’s blueprint for big projects

Sun on Sunday (preview): Expert: Repairing roads and railways must become ‘a priority’

BBC Breakfast TV: UK infrastructure ‘behind the rest’ 

BBC Daily Politics

FT Armitt op ed: A successful Britain needs an ambitious infrastructure strategy

FT: Call for cross-party body to drive infrastructure projects

Daily Telegraph leader column: An infrastructure commission is a road the UK needs to take

Daily Telegraph: Take warring politicians out of infrastructure planning, says Olympics chief John Armitt

Evening Standard (Anthony Hilton): Infrastructure is a cr0ss-party question

Guardian: UK needs dedicated infrastructure quango, says report

The Times (£): Labour urges support for transport commission

Mirror: Labour plans independent commission to decide infrastructure projects without political interference 

BBC online: UK suffering ‘infrastructure drift’ says Labour report

Construction NewsArmitt Review calls for independent infrastructure commission

New Civil Engineer (£): Armitt: independent infrastructure body could be running in six months 

Building: ‘Take the politics out of infrastructure’, Armitt says 

Building Design: Set up infrastructure commission, Olympic boss says 

Reuters: UK needs new infrastructure policy, says Olympics planning boss

Bloomberg: UK needs independent infrastructure commission report says

CITYAM: Business groups want action on infrastructure 

Third party responses

CBI

TUC

FSB

BCC

Green Alliance

EEF

IPPR

RICS

ICE

Deloitte

KPMG

RTPI

CPRE

Don’t mess up your London Marathon prep with a few weeks to go

When I was one of the London 2012 staff preparing for the 2010 London Marathon we were lucky enough to have a pep talk from the boss a few weeks before the race. It was 25 miles beyond his preferred distance but Seb Coe had run a ‘fun’ London with his Haringey club mates and gave us one killer tip: there’s not much you can do in the last few weeks to improve your performance but there’s a lot you can do to mess it up. Pretty sure he used a stronger word but you get the gist…

Slow or fast you’ve got to get to the line

Alongside Seb’s great advice I was steered to a 2hr56mins marathon, the best I could’ve run on the day, by Pete Marsh and Charlie Dickinson and their merry band of wise and experienced runners at Belgrave Harriers. Here’s a selection of their combined expert advice on getting yourself through the last few weeks. If I hadn’t have absorbed and followed this I would have messed up my marathon. I’ll share their race prep tips a week before this year’s run. [There is a shorter version of this blog on Guardian Running]

The long runs are done

You have done your long runs. You may have had a niggle, you may not have gone as far as planned, it was cold, you didn’t have your favourite hat on and you could squeeze a long run in this weekend. Don’t. You have done your long runs and it’s time to taper.

Whatever you have managed to do for your longest run is the foundation of your marathon this year, which you use to work out your pace and target time. Your likely performance is already in the bank if you prepare properly but you can still mess it up end up going slower. Based on the old school rule of a mile-per-day recovery from a long run, anything close to or over 15-18 miles now risks nibbling away at the training and performance you have already banked.

It’s taper time

Perversely, and marathons are perverse, the moment you take your foot off the pedal and ease up on your training is the toughest. The idea of ‘the taper’ is to wind down your mileage, heal any damage and start building your reserves and strength to get to the line in Greenwich in the best possible shape.

But it makes you feel rubbish. Nerves you pounded into submission spring back into life, muscles twinge to celebrate their new found freedom and you feel sluggish. You’re tempted to think these aches and pains are due to the lack of training, which you are now highly addicted to, but just say no and stick to your schedule. My marathon guru Pete Marsh (a 2:20 man in his day) gave me the schedule below but pick one that suits you from the many available - Runner’s World has plenty. The aim for me was to reduce the miles and fine-tune my pacing and mind for the different parts of the race, and to keep me busy. I still felt rubbish throughout the taper.

Pamper thyself

Unless you are one of the rare freaks of nature built to run marathons, you are feeling battered and bruised. Now is the time to rest, heal and pamper yourself.

Hopefully you’re already being pummelled regularly by a sports masseuse and pummelling your self on your foam roller, every distance runner’s new best friend. If not get both lined up ASAP as you don’t want to do anything new in the last week (see below).

Convince your neglected family that long hot baths are essential to your marathon glory, as is the Alberto Salazar (Mo’s coach) biography you’ll be reading in the tub. If you’ve not been having ice cold baths, don’t start now. This is not the time to self-inflict any more pain.

Think about your daily routine and do everything you can to reduce the strain on your body. Wear comfy shoes to work. Sporting luminous running shoes in the office could turn conversations with colleagues into marathon talk, and extra sponsorship.

Get up from your desk regularly, have a stroll at lunchtime and avoid lugging anything heavy. Think about going without coffee and wine, and then decide that the positive effects of a little of both outweigh the supposed negatives.

Gear up and go with what you know

If you’ve run close to or beyond the recommended life span of your trainers (usually 500 miles) and have yet to buy your silver-dream-lucky-race trainers, stop reading this and go and get them.  As in now, not online to be delivered in a week, from a shop, today. Buy exactly the same size, make and model and start wearing them on your shorter runs, building up to your next longer run. Don’t be led by the running shop pied piper of new shoes towards another model or brand, go with what you know.

If you want to buy magic go faster shorts buy exactly the same model and shape as you’ve worn in training. New bits of material will find new bits of the body to rub against. Personally I go for the 70s style high-thigh shorts as I’d rather my thighs on show than bleeding from chaffing. If you’re wearing a vest or other top that you haven’t worn before, start wearing it on your longer runs – also a good way to be spotted and high-fived by other London marathon runners.

Quench your thirst, fast

Taper time is also a good chance to perfect your plan for drinking and fuelling on the run. Of course you’ve already tummy and taste tested your own energy gel and/or drink or the ones that will be on offer at the drinks station? Only the mighty Paula Radcliffe can run a blistering marathon with a road side pit-stop. Best to try your energy gel and/or drink on a few of your longer and faster runs to be sure you don’t watch your target time slip down a portaloo. Test the go-faster energy drink and gels they’ll give out at the stations too, it tastes a lot stronger after 20 miles. I went for water and Go energy gels instead.

Also practice sipping from a bottle of water on the run. Stick a £2 coin in your shorts and nip into a newsagent half way along one of your faster runs. Sip half of it over 3-5 mins then pass it to another runner or into a bin. A £2 coin is a lot lighter than a running bottle or camelpak and doesn’t make you run wonky.

Be boring 

Don’t try anything new. New food, drink, magazines, routes to work, restaurants, kama sutra techniques – why risk it? Ok, no need to be quite so obsessive but don’t fill the space in your training schedule trying out a Zumba spin class or sweaty yoga for the first time. Be boring and stick with what you know, it will be worth it.

In moments of doubt I remembered the best advice I had, that you can’t do much to improve your performance in the last few weeks but you can really, really screw it up.

My last two weeks pre-marathon – courtesy of Belgrave Harriers marathon guru Pete Marsh

Sun 13M steady; Mon 4M easy or rest; Tue 4*2000M on track with Belgrave (80% effort); Wed 4M easy or rest; Fri 8M tempo (above race pace by approx 40 secs per mile); Sat Rest

Sun 10M easy; Mon 4M easy or rest; Tue 2/3*2000M on track (steady); Wed 4M easy; Thur 4M easy or rest; Fri rest; Sat rest (but I snuck out for 2 mile jog in race gear).

‘She’s not answering that’: Tips on managing a PR phone interview

The X Factor finally lost me when it found Matt Cardle. The first I heard of Ella Henderson was Caitlin Moran’s tweet about a phone interview with the pop ‘starlet’ for the Daily Telegraph, which didn’t turn out quite as planned.

The article, by Women’s Editor Emma Barnett, touched on the fact that the 17-year-old singer had an album due out, admires Beyonce and was supposed to be promoting Disney’s ‘Safer Internet Day’. The rest – including the headline, intro, gist, guts, quotes and conclusion – instead turned on the PR management of the interview and artist.

Ella Henderson Daily Telegraph interview

The journalist was already frustrated by being put on hold after each question before receiving carefully crafted answers. Then when she asked whether the popstar was a feminist, a PR person interrupted, without introduction, and said ‘she’s not answering that’.

Ella Henderson

Before suggesting that the singer sack the PR interrupter, who of course isn’t in a position to respond to the criticism [perhaps a subject of a future post], the journalist said of Ella Henderson:

“…while she does need guidance through the manufactured pop world at the tender age of 17, what she does not need is an aggressive bloke telling her not to say whether she is a feminist or not.”

An interview is always a negotiation between what the interviewee wants to say and what the journalist wants to hear that you hope will be newsworthy enough to appear in print or online in a story at least resembling what you’d originally envisaged.

While I don’t envy or pity those operating in celebrity media relations, I wonder what these particular PR people would do differently if they could turn back the clock? Perhaps they would follow these steps…

1) To interview or not to interview?

You provide an interview with a spokesperson or figurehead to try to get more space or exposure than you would with a written press release alone. You weigh up the newsworthiness of your chosen topic, the effective use of the spokesperson’s time, the likelihood of the journalist asking questions on other areas, how your interviewee is likely to answer them and whether this, on balance, could result in a story too far removed from the one you would like to see to make it worthwhile. You discuss all of this with your potential interviewee before deciding to go ahead with an interview.

2) ‘Who always writes nice things about us?’

Your guidance would also include which journalist you’d like to offer the interview. This would depend on existing relationships, expertise in the interview topic and how the journalist has covered the person, organisation or issues before. You give the journalist a sense of what the interviewee is likely to cover and if they think it’s newsworthy, you set it up.

Now at this point, PR people in some circles may feel they can flex their muscles on what the interview will or will not cover, giving all involved a chance to decide if, on that basis, it is still worth their while. In most sectors PR people have limited power to ensure an interview sticks to the pre-agreed topic or questions and others have less power than they think (as Emma Barnett has neatly proved). If you’re worried at this stage you should probably ditch the interview and opt for a different approach.

3) Over the phone or in the flesh?

You decide to do an interview over the phone either because it saves time for all involved or you think it might give you more chance of sticking to the chosen subject. You also gain the elbow-room to nudge the interviewee in the ribs if they’ve drifted or missed an opportunity to get their point across (pointing at the relevant part of their briefing note also does the trick). If none of the above applies and you’re dealing with a complex or detailed issue that the spokesperson has time to talk through with a journalist, who would also rather do the interview in person, do it in the flesh instead.

4) ‘You mean they can ask me any question they want?’

It’s the job of the PR person to help the interviewee prepare what they want to say by focusing their mind on what they are aiming to get out of the interview, as well as anticipating questions and how their responses may be reported.

It was perfectly reasonable and predictable that a Women’s Editor of a national paper would ask a 17 year old pop singer her views on the treatment and perception of women in the music industry. Ella Henderson could have answered ‘of course I’m a feminist, aren’t all women?’, if that’s her view. It would also have been perfectly reasonable for the singer to add or instead say, ‘I’d love to perhaps meet with you to talk about that another time as it’s really important to me but today could we stick to Safer Internet Day as I’ve agreed to help make sure as many people know about it as possible? Is that OK?’

5) ‘You’re on speaker phone, can you hear us OK?’

You treat a phone interview as you would an in-person interview or conference call.  The Daily Telegraph journalist complained about the ‘army of PRs and publicists’ in the room with her interviewee and that one interrupted the interview without introducing himself. The PR person should make the phone call, introduce everyone present and make it clear if they are listening in. They should also explain why they are there and how they will contribute, i.e., ‘I’ll stay out of the way while you chat but may chip in from time to time if needed’.

Intervening in an interview is a question of judgement and can backfire. I have chipped in with supporting facts or to clarify that a particular topic is not an area within an interviewee’s remit, which I also would have stressed ahead of the interview. Although, I have seen countless articles that portray the interviewee as managed or unsure of themselves by mentioning interrupting PR people.

If following these basic steps wouldn’t have guaranteed favourable coverage for Ella Henderson in this instance, they can at least help minimise the chances of the PR approach becoming the story.

The power of a strong campaign idea: #1 reason Jubilee 2000 went from a uni class to millions

In 1990 a group of students at Keele University walked to the front of their lecture hall to sign a petition started by their politics professor, Martin Dent. They called for the cancellation of the crippling debt owed by the world’s poorest countries by the year 2000.

Jubilee 2000 logoAt the turn of the century more than 20 million people from 155 countries had added their names to the Jubilee 2000 petition and campaigners estimate $120 billion of debt has been written off, giving aid to developing countries a fighting chance of succeeding.

Books have been written about the lessons learned from the Jubilee 2000 campaign. In this short contribution I’ll focus on the strongest – the power of a simple, clear and tangible idea. Read more ›

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