Infrastructure needs to be relevant to hit the headlines

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Given its scope, infrastructure has a real opportunity to raise its media profile, says international journalist and broadcaster Isabelle Kumar.

The master of ceremonies and presenter for this year’s FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference is the leading international journalist and news broadcaster Isabelle Kumar, who has more than 20 years’ experience and has covered the big business and political storiesin Europe during her career. Most recently Kumar anchored the prime-time evening news on Euronews and she has previously worked for CNN, Reuters and also the Associated Press Television News.

Infrastructure Global took the opportunity to get her views ahead of the conference on a number of issues related to the media and specifically the engineering and infrastructure sector’s profile. Given that infrastructure and construction is all around us and plays such a key role in improving people’s quality of life, we first asked her whether she thought that the industry has enough of a profile in the media given its importance to society.

“As a former TV news journalist, there is no denying the critical and integral importance infrastructure plays in our lives from our deepest past, to the present and into the future,” she said. “However, today, it’s hard to compete with the big news stories clamoring for attention, from war, climate change, public health emergencies, economic and social crises to political intrigue of every sort,” said Kumar.

“Interestingly infrastructure has a role to play in most of these aspects, particularly in terms of delivering solutions. Nowadays though, in TV news, there is a push for breaking stories and sadly fewer resources are designated to cover anything else that might require extra time and money to be developed. In terms of infrastructure, we hear too often about projects for the wrong reasons, for example when it is linked to a sensationalist scandal or disaster.

“When a project cuts through the noise it is a breath of fresh air. So no, I don’t think the industry always gets the attention or has the profile it deserves but sadly it’s what our current news reality dictates,” Kumar said.

Given her views on this and the challenges that the industry faces in getting its voice heard amongst a crowded news agenda, what does Kumar think that the sector can do better, or work on more, to raise its profile to a wider audience and to interest the media in its work?

Make projects relevant and interesting

“Today, journalists are generally time poor and newsrooms lack funding. If you want to push a project to get media attention a good starting point is to have a strong newspeg,” she says. “For this I mean, ensuring that the story is relevant to issues being discussed, which given the breadth of the industry would appear quite achievable,” Kumar said.

She has some particular advice on how the industry should communicate with the media when trying to interest journalists in a story. “Press releases needs to be clear and to the point, with a strong topline boldly stating why this project is newsworthy and a good story. To state the obvious, news is news, so any project proposed has to offer something new and concrete that can withstand journalistic scrutiny,” she says.

According to Kumar, this approach is especially crucial when it comes to the environment. “In other words, in terms of sustainability, no greenwashing!! TV news also needs good pictures. Send a good camera crew and a journalist and offer up video, interesting soundbites and a script. It’s great to end a bulletin with some beautifully filmed pictures and thought-provoking ideas!”

Wise words there from someone who has been at the cutting edge of news reporting for many years and something that can sometimes be forgotten by many in business, not just the construction sector.

“In TV 24-hour news, we sometimes had sponsored documentary-style content which if conceived and produced correctly would provide a welcome pause for thought from the frenetic news cycle. These could be single stories or a series and allowed us to take a more in-depth look at the issue in focus. Infrastructure projects are well placed for this type of programming,” Kumar says.

Don’t forget good social media output

Construction organisations also need to be abreast of the digital agenda when it comes to the media as this is such a key part of the news gathering and reporting process. “Companies should ask themselves ‘how good are we on social media?’” saiys Kumar. “We always looked through social media channels for good stories, or interviews, so make sure you that have a good presence there and keep your feeds up to date,” she says in another important piece of advice.

We also asked Kumar what she is looking forward to most about moderating and presenting at this year’s FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference. “It is a real privilege to take part in this event and primarily I am looking forward to listening and learning,” she said. “The onus is on the global infrastructure industry to deliver solutions to some of our biggest challenges particularly in terms of climate change and I am going to be really interested in hearing the solutions and innovations to achieve net zero goals and those set out in the Paris accords,” Kumar said.

So, there’s a challenge for the speakers and panelists at this year’s conference in Geneva – make sure that arguments are honed, discussion points are polished and above all that innovation and solutions to the key challenges the world faces take centre-stage from 11-13 September.

Most interesting interviewees

Finally, we asked Kumar who was the most interesting person that she had ever interviewed or met. Unsurprisingly, given her wide experience in the media, she named several. “I have been so lucky to interview fascinating people from so many different walks of life. My conversation with Karl Lagerfeld will always stand out for me. Behind the glamour, eccentricity and celebrity, Karl Lagerfeld was disarmingly humble with a surprisingly incisive understanding of the news!

“At the World Economic Forum, I had the opportunity to moderate and interview the German chancellor Angela Merkel at a closed-door lunch with other European leaders. I saw a different side to Angela Merkel than the one we saw on TV and one issue we explored was the UK’s departure from the EU. The former chancellor was very charismatic and funny as she worked the room cajoling the EU prime ministers and presidents there to put rivalries aside and work together to fill the void left by the UK. To my surprise Angela Merkel spoke perfect English!

“One of my favourite people is Ellen MacArthur. We first spoke in 2014 and I remember having real trouble getting my head around the principles of the circular economy she explained to me. We have spoken many times since and I have loved seeing how this paradigm shift is gaining continued global traction. I am in awe of Ellen’s clarity of thinking, vision and determination. Sometimes it is the most low key and modest people who stand out the most,” says Kumar.

Kumar offers some fascinating points and insights from the point of view of an engaging specialist in the field of journalism and the media. It’s clear that the delegates and speakers at the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference will be in expert hands in Geneva in September.

Click here for full details of the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference and to book a place.