‘How Long is a piece of string?’ The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 14 – You’d be amazed what you can have an argument about…

Make sure that the BBC can reach his van before planning a press conference

Press conferences are considered to be an essential part of any election campaign. I am not such a big fan, as many national media people are, mainly because they have the potential to go wrong without any apparent justification.

Sitting behind a table at the regional launch of an election campaign, surely nothing can go wrong.

With Manchester being the TV media hub for the North West one of the conference suites at Manchester airport was selected, by the national party, and with Tony Blair firing the starting gun for the election I was primed to organise the event the following day.

On cue at 7am myself and a number of TV engineers arrived at the main concourse of the airport awaiting the Charles Kennedy’s team, who would arrive by private plane from London and other journalists who would arrive later for the main event.

The conference suite was nice, if a little greige, and I set up the party back drop whilst the engineers plugged their cameras into their satellite vans outside the main concourse.

After about thirty minutes of discussion and heaving of equipment one engineer, from BBC News, who was planning to run a live feed sat down and made a phone call explaining that the kit he had brought would not do the job.

Another van was despatched from BBC Manchester and, having at least another hour before the press conference started, began to set up once again.

Our advanced team arrived, including Daisy Sampson, and ‘asked’ how things were progressing. I explained that we, the Liberal Democrats, were ready but that the BBC seemed to be having a slight issue. Having been given the rather curt response, ‘get it sorted!’ I duly went to the BBC team and asked what I could do to help.

He said, ‘next time you have press conferences please have them somewhere where we can get to.’

Receiving a bemused look he replied, ‘the problem is you have arranged your press conference 110 metres away from the closest point that we can park our satellite van, and as such our cable is approximately 10 metres too short for the job.  In fact we don’t have any cables that long so we are just going to have to record it and use it later. 

It is fair to say that the national team were not impressed with this information and after a show and tell exercise with myself and the BBC engineer, and much shouting from the said national representative I explained that she should get over it and try deal with the people who could cover it, namely those recording and those writing.  This did not go down well.

Nonetheless it is excellent advice from the BBC team.  The answer to the question, ‘how long is a piece of string,’ is ‘if it’s the BBC it’s 100 metres exactly.’


Tony, take it personally, the most qualified person for the job doesn’t always get it!


Despite being well qualified and the best known candidate for the job Tony Blair won't get it!

Dear Tony,

Thank you so much for your interest in the position of European President, which was recently advertised in the national and international press.

As you demonstrated, through your impressive Curriculum Vitae, you have both the experience and the ability to fulfil the role, and act as an internationally recognisable figure. So it may come as a disappointment for you to hear that you will not be offered the post on this occasion.

Despite being the longest serving Labour UK Prime Minister in history, winning landslide victories on two occasions it is thought that perhaps your popularity amongst those in your own country, and in continental Europe, may act as a barrier to your success in this role.

The evidence you provided of an unprecedented standing ovation, from all sides, in the House of Commons on your retirement, was impressive, but letters we have received since have suggested that this may not have been heartfelt by all those that engaged in it.

As you suggested the evidence that only 31% of the UK population support your candidature probably does outnumber those that have heard of all the others candidates put together across the European Union.

I can see that being beaten by a candidate who is less recognisable, has less experience, less media ability and less capacity to make the role one as a significant global player may seem to contradict the suggested job description.

Having seen the way others could fulfil the role, in a less engaging way, we have decided that we are going to offer it to another candidate. The panel decided on reflection, particularly those from Germany and France and the UK Opposition, that your skills, although self-evident, and well suited to the role, were far too good in comparison to their own, and should not be encouraged further.

We will of course keep your details on file for any other opportunities that come up, and would hope you might consider applying for other posts with the European Union in the future.

Please make sure you apply for roles where you would not be too successful to avoid future disappointment.

With Best Wishes,

The less influential European Union (which has decided that committees rule rather than ability)