Oh, the Mistakes Spokespeople Make
Based on my experience as a media trainer, the most common ones include:
1. Misunderstanding the Media.
Too many spokespeople confuse PR opportunities with free advertising. Ouch! No reporter, editor, or host wants to be a billboard for your products or service; their job is to provide interesting and useful information to their readers or audience. And if you help them do so, you'll maximize your chances of positive coverage.
2. Misunderstanding the Spokesperson Role.
Some spokespeople think that they're on a sales call when they meet the press. So they toss out puffery and hyperbole or try to "close on the objection." Then they become frustrated by the "poor" coverage, if any, that they receive. The key is simple: inform, don't sell.
3. Lacking Message Points.
At first blush, it might seem that telling spokespeople to have message points is as obvious as telling them to wear clothes during an interview. But in fact, many spokespeople do arrive metaphorically naked for interviews - bereft of key message points. Deliver several strong messages well, and you might just see them in print or on the air.
4. Unleashing a Core Dump.
When spokespeople feel the need to educate the interviewer about everything that could be known about their products, services, or companies, the interview loses focus. An effective spokesperson knows when to cut to the chase and assess what level of detail the interviewer is seeking.
Most inexperienced spokespeople don't know when to stop talking. By babbling on, they increase their chances of being misquoted or driving the interview off-topic. Don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - keep answers short and to the point.
6. Failing to Listen.
A guaranteed way to irritate an interviewer is to interrupt or finish his or her questions. You need to establish a rapport and communicate respectfully - just as you would with a colleague.
7. Speaking in Jargon.
It's often tough for spokespeople to adjust their technical level to that of the interviewer. But it's also critical. If you talk over the interviewer's head, you'll decrease the chances of an accurate write up; if you "dumb down" the information for a technologically-sophisticated interviewer, you'll likewise decrease the chances of getting the kind of coverage you desire.
8. Missing the "So What?"
Too often, spokespeople focus on the intricacies of their technology and forget that ultimately, the game is about offering a better value proposition for your customers. Demonstrate how your products and services solve your customers' problems and help them achieve their goals.
9. Trashing Competitors.
Spokespeople can easily lose credibility if they boast about overthrowing the 800-pound gorilla in their market space. Far better to talk about the unique features and advantages of your offerings and how you plan to increase market share. In short, take the high road when it comes to competitors - you'll do more to increase your chances of obtaining the good press you deserve.
10. Playing Tug of War.
Some spokespeople believe that they need to come across as "tough," so that they can control the interview through intimidation. Bad idea; you might win a battle or two, but you'll still lose the war. Victory goes to he or she who controls the ink. So be a smart player and check your ego at the door. Are there other mistakes spokespeople can make during an interview? Sure. But if they can avoid the "Big Ten," they'll maximize their chances of a successful experience with the media.
Steve Bennett is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based media trainer who specializes in helping spokespeople of technology and science companies deliver effective strategic messages to: the trade, business, and consumer media; analysts; stakeholders; and the public. You can reach him at email@example.com or by calling 617-492-0442.
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