Expert View: Communications - G8 - How the summit worked for us

At this year's G8 summit in July, Tearfund secured coverage on every major TV news bulletin on each of the summit's three days, and widespread radio and print coverage. I'd love to say this was down to our pre-summit strategy, but that would be stretching the truth - a lot.

Predicting how a summit of world leaders might be reported is impossible because it's dictated by the news of the moment. While world leaders negotiated climate change, the news focused on Gordon Brown's off-the-cuff remark about not wasting food. But a plan helps. Our political efforts kicked off in March, when our policy experts started meeting G8 sherpas - the influential representatives of heads of state who sit in for their leaders at many of the conferences. We used information from these meetings to decide on our message when the summit came.

As July approached, politicians downplayed expectations on poverty issues. By June, I was wondering whether going to Japan was a huge mistake. Conversations with journalists failed to put my mind at rest. G8 summits tend to be covered by diplomatic and political correspondents - not our natural environment. Ever tried having a conversation about climate change with a political hack? It doesn't come easily, on either side.

Staff shortages meant we had no snappy pre-summit report or media trip planned, unlike previous years, but I knew from previous summits that getting there early, putting names to faces and sitting within earshot of the press pack were important. You also need to produce a steady stream of news releases.

The summit media centre is surrounded by hundreds of journalists from every continent, but it's a news vacuum. Bush and company are miles away, in a resort surrounded by a ring of steel. Little is heard from the leaders until the summit ends.

So how did we make BBC, ITN and Channel 4 news bulletins all in one day? Quite simply, the news went our way. The leaders hailed the climate change agreement a major breakthrough, but we disagreed. The G8 got tough on Zimbabwe, and journalists needed analysis. Getting to know them and providing newsworthy comment paid off. Few other agencies were there to do the same.

Being on the media's doorstep was vital, because the news changed quickly. ITN was putting a package to bed when we gave it first sight of the G8's statement on Zimbabwe. What was set to be broadcast that evening changed completely, and included our comment.

The 18-hour days were tough. But with a good plan, a great team and a lot of luck, it was worth it.

- Abby King is senior media officer at Tearfund.

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