SHAPING A MEDIA MESSAGE
Now we will discuss how to frame messages for a media interview. If the reporter gets to pick the topic, you can pick what you think is most important. Anytime you go into a media interview, you should have the three most important messages written down on your cell phone or a piece of paper. Each message should be no more than ten words, which means around 30 words in total. Your messages should be that focused.
There should not be three main themes and three sub-points beneath each one. Many people have difficulty with this because they’re so immersed in their subject’s details that they think in terms of whole paragraphs, pages and entire press releases. This strategy doesn’t work well for an interview.
You can understand it this way: if a popular channel comes to you and says we’re going to give you a free public service announcement or a TV ad 30 seconds long to say whatever you want on this subject, what would it be? In this situation, you’d figure out how to boil your message down to 30 seconds if you were given millions of dollars’ worth of advertising.
Why narrow it down to three messages?
Some disagree with narrowing it down to a few messages and say they don’t want to dumb all the information, which is not intellectually honest. Mark Twain once said to a friend, “I’m sorry, I wrote you a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short letter.” The fact is it takes more intellect, more time, and more thought to write a short letter than a long letter. It takes more time to boil your messages down to three than just going into an interview knowing everything with 50 messages. Having thought, “If this question is asked, I’ll say these ten things, and if this question is asked, I’d say these ten things” is not the way to deliver your focus points appropriately. At the end of the interview, the reporter will have 50 messages from you and choose the ones they want to put in the final story. This selection may eliminate your focus points, and you will not be able to convey what you wanted to the audience.
How to isolate target messages
Here are some tips on how to select your top three messages. Before the interview, the first step is brainstorming messages that answer the most obvious questions: who, what, when, where, and why, as it relates to your topic.
Next, ask yourself, what’s important to me? What is it about this topic that I want the world to know? Write all those messages down.
Next, think about the reporter and what’s interesting to the reporter. It may overlap with what you care about, but some might not. Write down every single idea you think would be of interest to the reporter.
Your job does not end here. There’s another constituency we must think about, which is the audience of that media outlet. What will this media outlet’s readers, viewers and listeners care about? Write all those messages down as well.
At this point, creating a Venn diagram on a blackboard or a white chart is beneficial. Put all the messages you care about in one circle, all the messages the reporter cares about, and see where the overlap is. And then, finally, the readers’ and viewers’ messages of interest. You must eliminate any messages that aren’t right in the center of that diagram.
Focus on all three constituents-yourself, reporters, and the audience
If you’re an energy company and an explosion occurs at your plant where people are missing and injured, you might want to tell people that safety is our number one concern. That may be a message that’s important to you. But no reporter in the world will be putting together a story and going to quote you, saying safety is your number one concern when there’s a fire and explosion at your place. The reason is that it’s not interesting to the reporter. They want to know how you are going to stop this fire. The public wants to know whether the missing person includes any near or dear one to them. The fact that you have a general message of safety is our number one concern is a horrible message from your side at that time. It’s an excellent message for a website for a press release for your internal videos but not at this time of crisis.
This is one of the challenges that so many people grapple with. When they’re creating their messages, they stick to generic self-serving messages that are not of interest to the public and media. Eliminate anything that isn’t in the center of that Venn diagram and narrow it down to the top three messages.
Every message should stand on its own
Here is another check on whether you have isolated the perfect messages. Ask yourself about each message: “If this is the only one that gets quoted in the entire story, would I be happy with it?” If the answer is no, you probably don’t have a good message.
If any of your messages depend on order, or being second, with the first one going as your premise, or if it has a complexity that requires context in a certain way, it’s not a good message. Every single message point needs to stand on its own. It needs to be understood on its own. If it can’t stand on its own and needs explanations and references, it is not a good message, so get rid of it.
Never forget the audience’s interest
The hard part in isolating the focus message for many people is when a message point covers two of these categories: yourself, media and not the third one, the audience.
Let me give you an example. Thirty years ago, some politicians that were running for public office in Congress ran on the platform that they would not take PAC money. I will not take particular interest in PAC money. This was a message that was important to them. They cared about it passionately. Political reporters found this fascinating. It was clearly in that part of the circle where reporters thought this was interesting. These politicians had story after story, column after column, written about the fact that they weren’t taking PAC money, and their opponents were taking PAC money. It sounded like a significant media issue, but the only problem was that it was not in the final circle, i.e., messages of interest to the readers, viewers, and listeners of these media outlets. In this case, the public voters didn’t know what PAC money was. They didn’t care what PAC money was and didn’t find the message interesting; all those candidates lost.
So, it’s not enough to have a message that’s important to you and interesting to the reporters. It must be attractive to the audience who is looking at that media outlet.
All these factors are involved in coming up with a media message. It’s not about simply having an intelligent answer to every question. You can have a great answer for every question a reporter asks and never get quoted for anything important to you.
Before going for any interview or media presentation, isolate three clear messages you want to deliver to your listeners. It is crucial to narrow down your target messages to the top three, so you can get them quoted in your final story. Brainstorm all your possible messages and ideas, and then select the ones that are the most important. Your messages should interest yourself, your company, the reporter and the audience. If you ignore the interest of the reporter or audience, you will not get the desired effect of your presentation. Every message you isolate should stand on its own and have a complete meaning.