The image of a think tank employee is someone expert in a complex policy area, pushing their latest idea or response to current affairs in the media. But this isn’t the life of a press officer. Our skill is to be a generalist, across a wide range of issues, starting from a position of knowing nothing. And in a world of wonkery this ignorance is helpful for us to do our jobs well. To build the stories that work and escape the think tank bubble, we have to put ourselves into the position of the uninitiated, asking all the right questions.
Before doing anything else, my working day starts with speed reading the newspapers and scrolling Twitter. We’re right at the heart of, and in the heat of, UK politics, so Politico’s daily Playbook newsletter is essential reading and the BBC’s Today programme is a must listen for that day’s government message.
Once I’m up to speed, then I might to get on with a press release draft in preparation for a new report coming out. For this, I make sure I understand the report by reading it cover to cover and speaking to the authors. For us, our dominant political lines and strategy are top of mind whatever the report and that affects the angle, where we take the story and the timing.
One of the joys of the job is working with people who really know their stuff. By osmosis, I have to understand and become confident enough to talk about a report’s message, and that can be on anything from electric cars to nature friendly farming. I am there to cut through the so-called ‘curse of knowledge’ and strip a sea of facts and recommendations down to a story that is simple enough to land with politicians and the public, but still retains the integrity of our experts’ work.
Another highlight of my day might be meeting a journalist for a coffee. I’m glad that we’re getting back to this post-Covid, face-to-face meetings are so valuable to build relationships and understand what the media care about.
Of course, no job is complete without the admin and one thing we do that is so important to improving my work is monitoring and evaluation. Our monthly tracking helps to inform and change strategy and it’s especially heartening to get above the day to day, stop and take stock and realise that what I do has real impact.
By Joe Dodd, Press Officer, Green Alliance
10 November 2022