Lights, camera, action

The AOP’s Don’t swerve a sight test campaign hit the headlines in 2017. The Association’s Farah Gatrad talks news rooms, probing questions and top tips for your interview

Lights, camera, action

Joining two months ahead of the AOP’s key public facing campaign of 2017, I was just settling in when I was put forward for an interview on BBC Breakfast.

When I took the role of clinical and regulatory officer at the AOP, I must admit that talking about vision and driving for television viewers as they ate their cornflakes had not crossed my mind. In fact, it’s not quite what the AOP had planned either.

The campaign launch was all set for 15 November, with a studio booked and AOP spokespeople Henry Leonard and Dr Julie-Anne Little briefed in advance. However, a week before ‘go-live,’ journalists tipped off the communications team that another story was breaking the same day. Having spent months in preparation the team were not going to let the story fall flat without a fight. So, with some careful, but speedy, adjustments, the date moved.

It did mean that I had to step into Julie-Anne’s shoes on broadcast day. Given Julie-Anne’s specialist knowledge of the subject and being new to the AOP – not to mention my lack of previous media work – live interviews, back to back, in the studio were quite a daunting prospect.

Media crash course

In some ways, I’m used to working outside of my comfort zone. Like most optometrists, I began as a resident optometrist in a High Street practice, but after a couple of years I went part-time and took on a role at the hospital as well. I worked in glaucoma clinics and in eye casualty, which was stimulating and varied work. One moment you’re seeing a patient with dry eye, the next patient might have a retinal detachment. 

Over the years, I have cumulatively spent hours talking to patients about their vision, and how this may affect their suitability for driving. It is, however, a whole different ball game when there are lights and cameras involved – nothing quite prepares you for a crash course in media.

Being part of the Don’t swerve a sight test campaign, which was designed based on the findings of our Voice of Optometry survey, was both nerve racking and exciting. I walked in the studios at 6am, and one of the first things that struck me was the amount of equipment. In the run-up, I was thinking more about the questions, messages and delivery, and it really didn’t enter my mind that I’d be behind a glass wall, with oversized headphones or in the TV studio with cameras on wheels. When I entered the radio booth it suddenly felt very real. Coffee in hand, I laid out the media briefing and the schedule of 50 interviews in front of me – well and truly feeling like a fish out of water. 

Naturally, in that situation you want to do well. I think the reality is, and no matter how positive a story is, being asked lots of questions, and knowing that it will be heard by millions, is always going to feel intimidating. I was cringing at the sound of my own voice quivering nervously, but it was strange how quickly that feeling disappeared and I got into a flow. You soon realise that most journalists just want to tell the story in a way that is interesting for the audience. That’s not to say I wasn’t thrown a few ‘curveballs’ along the way. Thankfully the AOP media team had prepped me for this possibility.

"It really didn't enter my mind that I'd be behind a glass wall, with oversized headphones or in the TV studio with cameras on wheels"

Lax laws

The residing feeling I have taken from the campaign is that we were doing something good. With one in three optometrists reporting they’ve seen someone with vision below the standard, who continues to drive, it felt like now, more than ever, there was reason to raise awareness of the UK’s lax laws. The genuine interest from the public and radio presenters felt fantastic; it was really heartening to know that the message resonated with people and that they valued what we offer as a profession. 

If you’re thinking of engaging with the media – I wholeheartedly recommend it. My advice would be take someone with you – the feedback in between interviews on making my style more personal and sharing anecdotes was invaluable. Other than that, don’t underestimate the importance of sugar and caffeine. 

The Don’t swerve a sight test campaign was generated from results of the Voice of Optometry survey, which aims to raise the profile of eye health. The AOP’s second Voice of Optometry survey will launch in February – members are encouraged to look out for the email.

Your voice

For information about the AOP’s Voice of Optometry survey visit the website.

Image credit: Getty