Budget Week with Phil Coorey of the Australian Financial Review
May 2, 2017
For journalists – and whoever else manages to nab an invite to the lock up – the Federal Budget means a day spent behind closed doors sans mobile phone trying to make sense of economic jargon and what it means for the Australian people. It’s a time for the media to analyse the issues and industries that matter to Australians, and what the government thinks they’re worth.
“Budget time is a bit like a combination of school camp, a university exam, and the ram sales at the Royal Adelaide Show – by the end it smells like economy class after a long haul flight,” explains Phil Coorey, Chief Political Correspondent for the Australian Financial Review. “During the six hour lock up journalists give up their phones and use laptops without an external internet connection, so we can only analyse what’s in the budget based on our own prior knowledge. We can’t ring a tax expert to ask whether a tax measure is a fair thing or not.”
Here, Coorey shares advice for organisations on how to get the media to pay attention during Budget week.
1. Help Journalists Help You:
Budget time is super high pressure for journos, so make their job slightly easier in anyway you can. Always provide a one page brief with key information about your organisation and issue including key facts and quotes, and tip them off if you have any extra intel.
“If you get a whiff of a budget change, give us a call!” encourages Coorey. “Organisations should keep an eye on ministers’ speeches and interviews in the months before budget. They may pick up on language and nuances pointing to particular budget changes that journalists, who are less familiar with the subject area, may not notice.”
2. Make the Most of Your Spokesperson:
If you have a spokesperson – even better if they’re in Canberra – make sure the media knows about them. Contact media to let them know who your spokesperson is, and the best way to reach them for comment.
3. Get Your Grab right:
Make sure your spokesperson is ready to provide a response to the Budget in one or two sentences. This “grab” is how your organisation will be represented, so get it right.
“After the Treasurer has made his speech to Parliament on Budget night, representatives from organisations line up at “the boxes” in the press gallery to give 30-second takes for the cameras, radio and newspaper journos. There’s no time to muck around!”
4. Back it Up:
If a journalist decides to analyse your issue, they’ll need case studies to illustrate how the Budget outcomes impacts real people and groups. Do their groundwork for them by having these subjects prepared and available for interview. Just make sure you’re honest about the position and vested interests of your case studies.
“The worst thing that can happen is that we go to the trouble of interviewing and photographing the person nominated by an organisation, then after publication it is revealed that this “case study” is actually a political apparatchik with an axe to grind!” says Coorey.
If you’ve done your Canberra leg work and get invited to the lock up, make sure you don’t fudge the journey there. This is easier to do than it sounds. With an extra 5000+ people in Canberra at Budget time, taxis and ubers are at a premium; plan ahead to make sure you don’t get stuck on the outskirts of Canberra at a critical moment. Make sure you’ve got your pass visible, know your access point, and have somewhere there to pick you up at entry.
6. Be a Stayer:
Plan to stay past Budget night.
“The most important day for organisations is actually the day after Budget night, when journos are tired, overwhelmed, and some even possibly a bit hungover. This is the time to hammer home the areas that were overlooked in the first reaction to the Treasurer’s speech. Budget related media coverage can last for weeks if it’s a contentious issue, so be prepared to plug away to get your message across.”
Coorey’s parting Budget week advice?
“Don’t attack journos for being “biased” if they quote the opinion of an organisation you disagree with. You need to convince them of why your opinion is equally newsworthy in the budget coverage.” And of course, be available – keep that mobile on and charged!