Press officers field a flurry of snow calls

Press officers at the Highways Agency were told this week to get through the snow 'to your nearest office' to help field five times the usual number of media calls.

Snow-ho: thick snow covers the ground in London’s Soho Square
Snow-ho: thick snow covers the ground in London’s Soho Square

As the South East of England experienced the heaviest snowfalls in two decades, the Highways Agency took the equivalent of ten days’ worth of calls in 48 hours on Monday and Tuesday.

Head of comms Gill Stevens said press officers were told to show up at any office in the UK: ‘At one point we had to switch from London to our ­regional team in Birmingham, which picked up from there.’

As the week progressed, transport groups turned their media relations efforts to self-defence, as journalists highlighted traffic mayhem and the estimated £3.5bn cost to British businesses.

Stevens said: ‘The BBC claimed there was a 54-mile tailback. That didn’t happen. The longest tailback on the M25 was ten miles. Where there were issues, it was due to individual incidents such as a lorry jack-knifing.’

The Department for Transport provided transport minister Paul Clark for interviews on Monday night and Transport for London senior officials fielded questions over cancelled bus services.

TfL director of news Stuart Ross said: ‘The key thing was to explain the preparations that were undertaken and the efforts of staff on the ground.’

Meanwhile, the Met Office’s press team was alerted to the incoming snow last week. Met Office chief press officer Dave Britton said: ‘We started to communicate with the operational side to understand what the story might be and how to place the messages.’

The Met Office started to brief the national press last Thursday about what might be coming. Over the weekend, it communicated with local media, while liaising with the Cabinet Office and Highways Agency to include the Government’s own messages.

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