The issue of how to make your client a ‘go-to’ person for media comment has always been a thorny one. Indeed, it’s probably because it’s difficult that PR agencies get paid to help with it at all. How can you persuade a Chief Exec who has a hundred other demands on their time to be available and quotable at the drop of a hat, offering genuine insight that marks them out from tens of others? And, even if you can, how can you persuade media to stray from their existing ‘go-to’ people and give your Chief Exec a try?
But, whilst tackling this tricky conundrum, did it ever occur to you that the gender of your spokesperson could be making it even harder? According to Broadcast Magazine’s ‘Expert Women’ campaign, male experts outnumber female by four to one across major TV and radio shows. Earlier in the year, one edition of the BBC News at 10 had a nine to one male to female ratio. There are not four times as many men as women in this country, let alone nine. So the logical conclusion to come to would be that it can be harder to pitch in a female spokesperson – especially around an issue not viewed as traditionally female.
Yet this is only half the story. If you speak to broadcasters in particular, there’s a real sense of wanting to improve the gender balance, and get new women in – indeed, I’ve not found it any harder to get female spokespeople on TV than men. But there’s also a sense that, in some areas, there’s a real shortage of women out there who are willing to put themselves forward, and come across well in the broadcast medium.
The latter is a slightly chicken and egg situation – you get good at broadcast interviews by doing more of them, so you need to be given your chance. And it’s good to see broadcast is addressing this – not only through their own trade magazine’s campaign, but through initiatives like the BBC’s ‘Expert Women’ days, providing free training and insight to those women who may have a lot to offer, but lack the showreel to prove it.
Bloomberg has also linked up with HerSay – www.hersay.co.uk – a new media resource centre for female experts, to support the women on their database with media training and familiarization with how broadcast in particular works. The evidence shows that these new female-only databases are working, with journalists starting to use them as a resource to ensure better gender balance. But they’re only going to work if they’re populated by the right people.
Which leads to the final part of the puzzle. I have the great pleasure of working with and knowing many fascinating, articulate women – a significant number of whom would feel intensely awkward about describing themselves as experts and pushing themselves forward. As I’ve written in former blogs, lack of confidence, and the failure to boast a bit can be women’s worst enemy – you’d be very lucky for the media to just coincidentally find out that you’re smart, pithy and a mine of information if you don’t actually tell them.
Addressing the gender balance in media is important for all sorts of reasons – from providing positive role models, to just making it a bit more interesting to read and listen to. Media, PRs and women in general all have a role to play in making that happen – but with recognition of the problem already leading to progress, I’m optimistic we can all help make that change.