Thursday, February 17

Practice makes perfect

Okay, I am not advocating that you get right out there and go to Political Pundit School, but there's is a key point or two in this article that make sense.

Media training isn't new, and even though the arenas may change, the fundamental prinicples still apply: When it is your name and reputation on the line, you need to be clear and concise in your messaging.

This author is recounting his trip to a hardcore boot-camp for television talking heads. Much of the advice runs counter to what we generally recommend... but then again, most of our training clients aren't working in a place where you have to shout to be heard, and confrontation rules the day.

The one skill that does pertain is how to incorporate your key messages into a conversation:
"I ran out of things to say. This is a problem that plagues inexperienced pundits, but Masters has an easy solution: come up with a list of talking points and commit them to memory. 'To train yourself,' he went on, 'be prepared to weave your points into any conversation. It's a fun thing to practice at cocktail parties.'"

This can be a difficult skill to acquire, because there are so many precursor skills to learn and few people teaching those basics.

I like to think of this challenge according to the "hooks" of the subject.

Listen for a commonality with the subject of your key message.
Listen for a commonality with the action you are proscribing.
Listen for a commonality with the object of the action.

Subject. Verb. Object.

Someway, somehow, you can usually tie one of your points to someone else's comments. It may require some adjustments, either in impact or in scale:
"Masters counsels clients to either broaden the question or narrow it, depending on what suits their partisan purposes. Was Bush helped by strong job numbers this month? Then the broader issue is the continual outsourcing of American jobs. Are Hillary's favorability ratings on the rise? No problem: in red states she still ranks below avian flu."
Finally, there is the issue of getting the most out of the message you have constructed. Master storyteller Wayne Freedman often coaches the power in the "Rule of 3s," and educators have long taught in three-steps: instruction, application, and correction. "Three"s are so natural to us, we tend to hear them or look for them even when they aren't there. (I know there's someone in your office that always asks 'Who's next?' after two prominent celebrities die.) Use that to your advantage:
"People think and process information in groups of three," he explained. "Larry, Curly, Moe. Beginning, middle, end. Anytime you answer a question, first hit your message, then enhance it with a story or an anecdote, then hit it again. Narrow, wide, narrow."

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Friday, February 11

Boy Scouts: Ill-prepared?

For those of you outside of the area, the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America is being investigated by the FBI. It is charged with inflating its membership rolls.

Of particular interest is the fact that these charges have been public for a number of weeks now, and the scouts finally got around to hiring an outside public relations firm to assist with messaging. Here's what got my attention:
The council, which confirmed the FBI review last month and said it was cooperating with investigators, said it had developed "an aggressive plan" for implementing an internal audit.
That's it? After all of that time, all we get is an "aggressive plan" for implementing an "internal audit?"

Folks... this is a clear case of an organization needing a crisis communications plan. Once there is a situation that threatens your institutional credibility, you need to get out front with a statement like this one. I like the word selection: aggressive, internal, and audit are all strong words that invoke connotations of swift and sure action. They promote confidence.

They also fly in the face of reality if they are used nearly four weeks after their peak effectiveness.

You mean to tell me that only now, weeks after the feds have raided your place and rolled out files in front of television cameras... only now are you developing a plan for an internal audit?

Many days late -- and considering what they are paying their outside spokespeople -- many dollars short.

A business or team with a halfway decent proactive crisis communications plan could have put that out within 30 minutes.

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Monday, February 7

Post Super Bowl second thoughts...

...And this example is all about mixing your messages (or being caught while trying to obscure something.)

Aesthetically, I really liked the DirecTv ad with the kid who ages as he walks from room to room. The seams were well-masked, using a combination of new technology and old techniques (see Hitchcock's "The Rope.")

The payoff at the end, which admittedly was not as memorable as the meat of the ad, was a pitch for DirecTv's new Hi-Def initiatives. The tagline was "Rethink TV."

That's all well and good -- until my DirecTv bill showed up in the mail. Along with the notice that our service package price was going up in March.

Maybe -- just maybe -- the middle of an across-the-board rate increase is *NOT* the time to encourage customers to "rethink TV."

Rule of thumb: make sure your key messages aren't internally inconsistent with your actions. Or as Confucious put it, "words and deeds must be in harmony."

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Super Bowl ad research: FedEx delivers.

What can I say. I am a sucker for truth.

And the FedEx/Kinkos ad hit it squarely on the head, with a rundown of cliches necessary for SuperBowl Ad success:
1) Celebrity
2) Animal
3) Dancing animal
4) Cute kid
5) Groin kick
6) Talking animal
7) Attractive females
8) Product pitch (optional)
9) Catchy pop song
10) Bonus ending

I typed this from memory, AND I remembered which company placed the ad. That means it was effective, at least in the sense that a great number of past ads were so funny you forgot the product they were sponsoring.

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Tuesday, February 1

If you blow a key message, do you have to run laps?

A Denver-based outfit is now offering preventative advice to athletes that are on the way up. As you can guess, the media training is going to rely heavily on sports analogies:
"Media Training Camp helps athletes assess the media “playing field”, develop and deliver messages that resonate with fans and analyze the effectiveness of their efforts. Participants will learn how to “score points”, “avoid penalties” and know when to play offense or defense with the media."
I guess the real question here is who is going to get to these kids in college while they are still making their reputations and before they have the money to afford media training? A lot of big-time university programs would be well-served to find a way to bring media advice to these kids early.

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