This is the first of a two-part series about the value of consistent messaging in PR
By Matt Baxter
We’ve all been there. You’ve prepped for the interview, you know your product or position well (perhaps too well) and you’re confident in what you need to say. It’s going well and you’re feeling good.
Then the reporter asks a difficult question – perhaps it’s something just slightly off topic, but within your area of expertise. Naturally, you want to be helpful and answer the question, so you expound upon the various details or nuances and suddenly, the time’s up and you’ve told them everything but the essentials.
You’ve just made one of the most classic blunders (right up there with “never get involved in a land war in Asia” and the slightly lesser-known “never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”): Never forget your message.
It might seem uncomfortable, but in an interview, you are never just there to answer questions. You are there to make sure the reporter learns the most important facts about your announcement or product. This is magnified when you are doing interviews for television or radio, which have significant time constraints.
Here are three skills to help you stay on message and avoid this classic blunder:
Stick to three messages TOPS
This skill, probably more than any other, will help ensure you communicate clearly. It’s especially helpful when you a) know too much about a topic and can go down a rabbit hole, or b) you’re really nervous and don’t want to risk forgetting what you need to say. It’s also a good idea to order them in priority, from most important to less critical.
For example, ACME has invented a new product that:
- Is the greatest thing since sliced bread
- Is based on new technology pioneered by ACME, the industry leader in innovation
- Saves time, is perfect for the audience on the go, simple to use, sliced bread is envious
These messages may seem simple, but they give you the basis to establish why you’re there in the first place. They remind you of what you need to communicate, provide you with starting points, and, more importantly, stopping points to help keep you focused.
Learn how to bridge back
This skill will help you avoid getting pulled off into other areas when that tough question is asked. Bridging allows you to acknowledge the question and then work your way back to your messages. It’s helpful to have one two data points and an example for each message.
For example, responding with a data point or an example helps you avoid a pitfall like this:
Interviewer: “You’ve said that your product is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Why do you think it’s so special when EMCA has just made the same claim?”
You: “Studies have shown that people who use the ACME product have seen an 80% reduction in time needed to accomplish their task, with a cost savings of 65%. All of this is possible because of ACME’s pioneering work in this space. I’m confident that our technology has helped make this the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
Rather than defend your product and risk getting pulled into a conversation about which product is better, bridging allows you to acknowledge the question and then get back to communicating what is important to you.
As with any skill, repetition improves the process. Don’t glance at the messaging and think you’ve got it – the results may be little better than “winging it,” but just barely. If you’re having trouble getting past the awkward feeling of not answering a direct question, find someone to play the reporter and help you practice bridging techniques.
Finally, as you practice, try to implement this simple technique to make sure you hit all your messages: tell them what you are going to tell them, then actually tell them, then remind them what you just told them. Not only does that help you stay focused, it reinforces your main messages in the mind of your audience.
Staying on message is an important part of any spokesperson’s job, and yet it’s relatively easy to lose sight of. We can’t help you if you blunder into a land war in Asia, and you’re on your own if you test positive for iocane powder, but developing these skills will help you stay on message and keep you from making the biggest spokesperson blunders.
If your organization is in need of spokesperson training, we can help! Contact us today!