Revolutionary Measures

Time for companies to get real

Like a lot of people I start my morning with the Today programme on Radio 4, where a continual succession of politicians, captains of industry and celebrities queue up to be interviewed. If they are lucky they get the mild-mannered Justin Webb or if unlucky James Naughtie or John Humphrys in a particularly cantankerous mood.JohnHumphreys460

As a PR person one thing I notice very quickly is if the interviewee has been over media trained. You can hear the key messages and soundbites being introduced into the conversation (often with a complete lack of subtlety), the practised swerve away from difficult questions and an overall replacement of any personality with a mechanised response.

Obviously anyone speaking to the press (and particularly to Humphrys, Naughtie or Paxman) needs to be trained – the car crash interviews when spokespeople are completely unprepared are toe-curlingly bad. But in too many cases the message overwhelms any personality that the spokesperson has – the lines could be delivered by a robot rather than a human being. This may be fine if the speaker is a third undersecretary at a government agency, but not good if he’s your CEO and essentially the ambassador for your brand.

And this malaise isn’t confined to senior managers and politicians. I see a lot of entrepreneurs and heads of growing companies who shut down when they have a camera pointed at them or a microphone shoved in their face. All the energy and enthusiasm they have for their wonderful product drains away to be replaced by a tongue-tied mouthing of platitudes.

So what can spokespeople do to get their personality and message across? I’m not going to provide a full media training session in this blog but it revolves around five key areas:

1              Preparation
As Ben Franklin said, “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” Take the time to research who you are speaking to, the audience of their programme/readership of the magazine. What has the journalist written recently? What is the angle of the interview? If you have a marketing or PR person they should provide you with this information ahead of time – read it well before the interview (not 5 minutes before).

2              Know what you are going to say
Have 2-3 key points that you want to get across, particularly for broadcast interviews. But say it in multiple ways – repeating the same soundbite again and again is going to put listeners/viewers off and makes you sound like a stuck record. Back up what you are saying with examples or figures that prove your case, particularly if they come from a reputable third party.

3              Be human
People relate to people, not to dry words. Use stories and anecdotes that build pictures in the audience’s mind – and make them personal. Things like ‘I saw on my way here that…..’ or ‘I was talking to one of our customers and they said……..’ show empathy and involvement. Just make sure they are true and not PR spin.

4              Be enthusiastic
Particularly for a start-up, if you can’t be enthusiastic about your product, how do you expect others to buy it? You may be repeating details for the thousandth time and feel you  are having to dumb down the language around your wonderful new innovation but explain clearly, simply and with energy what it will do to change people’s lives for the better. You’ve got passion for your start-up – get it across when you speak.

5              Get training
If you’re not sure about how good you are at speaking publicly then make an investment in training. Not necessarily media training, but coaching in public speaking is an invaluable way of building up your confidence and providing methods for getting your message across without losing your humanity.

There’s a reason that the same spokespeople keep popping up on radio and TV – from the likes of Richard Branson to Justin Urquhart Stewart of Seven Investment Management (a mainstay of Radio 5 Live). They provide consistently interesting and punchy answers, without letting the message overwhelm their own personality. It is time for entrepreneurs and spokespeople everywhere to follow their example.

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February 27, 2013 - Posted by | Marketing, PR, Startup | , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Very true. The recent BBC double-whammy by RIM’s UK MD, Stephen Bates was a classic example of over-reliance on a pre-agreed script / messaging and being over-trained. I find it hard to believe his PR team hadn’t warned him that the odd tricky question might come up and even harder to believe that he couldn’t think on his feet when it became clear the interviews were straying into car-crash territory.

    Broadcast interviews are tough but also a key part of an exec’s job. SB came across like a gurning robot and what should have been a great day for RIM with the launch of the new Blackberry, began instead with widespread ridicule.

    Comment by PaulieA | February 27, 2013 | Reply

  2. That’s a perfect example Paul – and he became the story rather than the launch itself. Being professional doesn’t mean being robotic!

    Comment by Chris Measures | February 27, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] For anyone talking to the media, they should keep these examples front of mind. Develop your own style, tailor it to the audience in order to engage with them, and take the time to go beyond the pre-written message if you want to be remembered for the right reasons. Whether you are Michael O’Leary, Mike Ashley or just talking to your trade press, invest time in the interview and you (and your company) will reap the benefits going forward. […]

    Pingback by Mike Ashley – PR star? « Revolutionary Measures | June 15, 2016 | Reply


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