I was on secondment with the Department for Transport (DfT) Media Team working in the Press Office for two weeks. .
First day and it was straight in at the deep end; looking at ministerial submissions for the first time, and considering media handling advice on a range of issues. I appreciated the breadth of knowledge and expertise in DfT but also the complexity of the policies we’re delivering.
I was asked to prepare the announcement of the new Chief Executive for the Vehicles Certification Agency (VCA), and then suddenly dropped everything to do urgent research when the Daily Mail and Mirror’s campaign on bans for drivers who use mobiles went live. I was tasked with pulling together a historical list of articles on mobile phone use, and had an hour to get this done. Quite the introduction!
The following week I moved on to the Aviation and Maritime Desk.
I had to prepare the press notice and brief for the announcement of the City of Derry to apply for funding to maintain a vital air route.
This came in just after the Northern Ireland (NI) Assembly announced a multi-million pound investment scheme into the region. This brief would also be used by Lord Dunlop, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), on his visit to the area.
Exhilarating and challenging
Regular contact with No10!
I liaised with No10 and NIO regularly - there were a lot of sensitivities both political and commercial that had to be navigated before the brief could be cleared. It was interesting working across government - from not knowing a thing about aviation to being a focal point to advise the Press Office in the NI office and No10. It was quite exhilarating and challenging.
At the end of the two weeks I slept for two days. It’s been some time since I had worked at a similar pace operationally at the Home Office and I respect anyone who can work at that pace all the time.
Usually there’s a lessons learnt bit here, but it would sound condescending coming from someone who only did this for two weeks.
Instead I will reiterate the advice from my colleagues in the media team:
- Plain English is much easier to follow – drop the jargon wherever possible, Timing is crucial, check if there any big announcements or visits coming up that might interfere with communication plans
- Pick up the phone - sometimes the explanation is easier to convey in conversation rather than by email (if you have the time)
Good advice - pick up the phone!
I really would encourage everyone to consider a shadowing opportunity or secondment if your organisation offers it. My perspective on policy and strategy at DfT is completely different following my time in the Media Team - it really makes you think about public perceptions of what we’re doing in DfT.
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