UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Union image problem? You can`t trust the media!

Recent events confirm that trade unions are dirt to most of the national media. Somewhere above 1970's sex offenders but way below for example the Armed Forces. Unions 21 have offered a visual display of the terms we put in press release as opposed to the terms actually used by the media. So `services,` `pensions` and `members` feature prominently in our press statements but 'strikes' dominate the headlines. It was always thus.

Unions 21 put together a panel of experts who considered the point. Trade unionists, social media experts and image consultants gave various responses as to how this was. None mention the class ownership of the media or its inherent bias, which suggests that they might be missing the point. One point made is the loss of the old industrial relations correspondents which may be due to the relative weakness of the unions - they might come back if the unions revive. However it is interesting to read what they say because some of it is worth reading.

We can`t ignore the impact of a negative national media on our image. But there are two points that are worth more discussion:

Firstly they don`t mention the local media. They are arguably a different and potentially more friendly group. A lot of research says that ordinary working class people are more likely to read news in their local free sheet or weekly paper than they are in the national dailies. We often ignore the local media, people we can actually meet, talk to and who are always looking for local stories. They are often far more interested and sympathetic from my experience and will print your letter or call you about an issue. We should utilise them more. Local radio and local TV still have a brief that is slightly out of the reach of the national cess pool.

Secondly in an organising context it's true that we have to find a better angle. Too many press releases from unions do use jargon, talk sternly and focus on rights and union officials. There is some resonance with the experts brought together by Unions 21. Do we use social media? Do we text and twitter to members? Who are we quoting? What are they saying?

Spending time to put together a `core message` that comes from members is an essential part of the union organising approach. That core message if done properly will reflect the hopes and aims of ordinary workers and not the official union. Using members and allies as spokespeople can often be better received than by union officials. Not another middle aged man in a suit, but what if the local GP, parent or services user will speak? The Vicar? The Priest? The celebrity? All of them in different stories can be a powerful ally in the media game. Try it.