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How to communicate effectively when “you know too much”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

presidential debateWatching the presidential debates, I have found the diversity of communication styles from candidate to candidate to be a fascinating study in spokesperson strategies and how they represent a brand. What traits make a spokesperson successful and what may not work in front of the camera or a journalist’s pen?

When you set aside the issues, what’s left are the basic elements of communication, or the strategies a spokesperson employs to convey their point of view and influence their audience while representing the company brand (or party image, in the case of presidential race).

Although public relations has evolved dramatically during the past 10 years, the basic guidelines for being a good media spokesperson have remained the same (with some tweaks). Below are some of the basics that you may already know but I hope they serve as a helpful reminder to anyone who plays the role of spokesperson, whether it’s a quick answer to a few questions or a longer, in-depth interview. As a spokesperson, you represent the company brand at all times, so how do you stick to the key tenants without going off track?

  • Remember, you know too much. You are an expert about your subject matter. So much so, that you likely have a level of understanding that is many levels deeper than the journalist. If you try giving them too much information, you will probably bore them and they may pick up a tangential point you may have mentioned instead of the topic you imagined would be the focus of the article. So keep the conversation simple and focused. This leads me to the next point…
  • Stay on message. There are many strategies for doing this, but in short: Say what you want to say, and then say it again. In other words, identify your core message and supportive key points before your presentation. Then, keep your core message simple and repeat it often so it sticks. You may give a lot of examples and scenarios to help explain your point, but always return to your core message. Another good way to wrap up your interview is to use numbered steps to outline your key points. For example, “ … the three main things I want to leave you with today are 1) …. 2) … 3) …” It may seem obvious, but reporters often appreciate the clear, concise recap.
  • Engage them in the conversation. This seems self-explanatory but when you have a lot to explain, it’s easy to start lecturing. If you feel this is happening, ask questions to make sure you’re not losing or boring them with too much detail.
  • Act as if you’re talking to your most important customer. Although you may be talking to one person, the end result may be an article describing your comments to a majority of your customers. You want it to sound respectful and concise.
  • Silence is golden. Don’t babble on uncomfortably if you get flustered when they stop asking questions. Just stop talking. This gives pause for questions and gives the journalist time to take notes. Also, remember that the questions the reporter asks reveal where he/she is going with their article and may flag areas of concern that you will need to address.
  • Set expectations accurately. No one likes to be let down or lied to, and it’s a real bummer when products you purchased don’t work as described. Be honest and deliver on your promises. Otherwise, you’ll start to sound like a presidential candidate and no one will trust you – OR your brand.

How do you represent your brand during media interviews? If you need help, give us a call! We have media training experts ready to help.

How to Practice Radical Honesty

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

FORSSA, FINLAND - MAY 17, 2014: Sign Volkswagen against blue sky. The Volkswagen Group delivered over 9 million vehicles in period from January to November for the first time ever in 2014.

The Volkswagen scandal serves as the most recent reminder that it is important to be honest with your customers. Once a company has been “outed” by the media—or anyone other than itself for that matter—they have a long and arduous uphill battle to regain brand trust.

Back in the days of the TV hit show, Mad Men, the corporate “spin machine” might have churned out a well-crafted response in a time of crisis and then the public may have given a collective sigh of relief, as trust in organizations was fairly high at the time. But as authors of the recent Harvard Business Review article, “Volkswagen and the end of corporate spin” point out, the public today, as a general rule, errs on the side of mistrusting organizations. Although people can be quite forgiving, organizations seem to be starting at ground zero on the trust barometer scale, and must earn their customers trust over time.

The article points out that those feelings of mistrust, coupled with the landscape of social media along with other factors, has completely transformed the environment in which we must communicate today. The authors suggest that corporations take the notion of “corporate transparency” one step further, employing what they call “radical honesty,” whereby one is proactive about its transparency, making everything publicly available, and quickly.

While “radical honesty” may not seem like your cup of tea, we agree with the authors that, in today’s world, an organization’s truth not only will get out, but it probably already is out. In the spirit of this belief, the article provides some excellent general guidelines to communicate effectively in today’s brave new world:

  • Straight and soon. Get the story out honestly and quickly – always assume you have less time than you think.
  • Flood the zone. Use many channels – you need to connect with different kinds of stakeholders, different generations, genders, cultural backgrounds, with different communication habits.
  • Good, bad, and ugly. Encourage honest conversations about both hopes and fears. Remember that power relationships sanitize information that gets to the top. Ensure people can bring bad news, not just good.
  • Distill and simplify. Keep communication simple and relevant, don’t drown people in irrelevant data.
  • Repeat. Find ways to reiterate the message and build feedback loops. Remember that trust builds slowly and quickly fades once the message stops, or when people see or hear contrary data.

At McKenzie Worldwide, we help our clients communicate their authentic brand voice to customers, as well as guide them through this new world of communication—during day to day operations as well as in times of crisis.

What are you doing to help “keep it real” with your customers? If you need help, give us a call!


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