I did feel a bit of a poacher turned gamekeeper turning up as observer and participant for the TTF‘s inaugural session to discuss the thorny issue of “timber and the media”. But the discussion between Federation members and staff and representatives of the BWF, UKFPA, WPIF and wood. for good was very interesting.

The meeting touched on the latest Greenpeace protests against the use of Indonesian plywood. But it wasn’t a gut reaction to current events. The aim was to look at devising a media strategy so the trade can both respond to one-off events like environmentalist actions, and secure a higher media profile and more constructive, informed coverage overall.

On the quick response topic, a suggestion was that the timber trade sets up an expert team whose contact details are made available to the media. If a story breaks, journalists can call one of the team for a balanced, informed industry viewpoint, or to set up a discussion with those, such as perhaps one of the green groups, criticising the trade. This industry media squad could also be backed up with ‘policy statements’ on key issues agreed by the whole trade.

A natural fear about giving a quick reaction to a breaking story is that you won’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips. But the trouble if there isn’t an instant response is that the other viewpoint gets all the airtime and the public suspects the worst of the timber trade’s silence. And the media simply moves on.

The instant response can be used effectively to explain that the issue under scru-tiny is being investigated and, in the meantime, the industry is taking other positive steps in this area. This approach, I thought, was perfectly executed by TTF director-general Paul Martin on Radio 4’s Today programme the other week discussing allegations that illegally-felled timber was entering the UK as east European-made furniture.

On the question of achieving a higher industry media profile overall, it was suggested that greater use is made by the trade of regional and local press, TV and radio. Their appetite for interesting stories about local companies and people is boundless, and they act as a news source for their national counterparts.

So the broad conclusion of the discussions was that the trade should use the media. If it doesn’t, others will.