Right Messages + Right Spokesperson = Audience Engagement

So let’s talk a bit about messaging and spokespeople and audience engagement.

A recent commercial radio news bulletin, here in the Emerald City, concerning the renewal of a corporate sponsorship of a leading entertainment venue.

An opportunity, with the right messages and delivery, to enhance the general perception of a company, and get people on board.

Include detail, avoid buzzwords

The spokesperson talked about transforming the sponsored building into a ‘smart venue’. This may well be a thing, and it may well be something that can be delivered – but without any explanation, it’s a lost opportunity to connect with the audience. Then there was ‘improving customer experience’. Without specifics, why should anyone care?

It is too easy to substitute a shorthand term for the real message. ‘Smart venue’, when we mean a building that can tell you where things are, tell you how long the queue for the ladies’ loo is and allow you to pre-order two hot dogs and four pints via an app on your smartphone. ‘Improving customer experience’ when we mean discounted gig tickets, a chance to meet the band and 4G in the mosh pit.

Messages are the detail that gets people interested, draws them in, makes them want to be involved. In this case, however, both key points sounded like buzzwords from an approved list, drawn up because research shows they’re what the customer wants to hear.

Suitable spokespeople, not senior spokespeople

The spokesperson had clearly been briefed, and did a workpersonlike job, but sounded uncomfortable and didn’t have the detail that would make the story live. Agreeing a spokesperson is not easy – often simple seniority carries the day.

An alternative approach is to establish a panel of ‘subject matter experts’ who take the spokesperson role when it’s their area.

Another is to spread the responsibility – get agreement that a handful of senior people should alternate as spokesperson, thus limiting the exposure of any one in particular.

And there’s selection of opportunity – the less able spokesperson gets the less pivotal gigs.

Training to tell stories

In the real world, of course, this doesn’t always work. The media want to speak with the CEO, and no-one else will cut it. Or maybe the news story is about a ground-breaking use of technology and only the CTO will do.

Which is where, of course, the message and the spokesperson should be managed in tandem.

Messages are not buzzwords, and a spokesperson is not someone reading buzzwords off a script. Training and rehearsal – above and beyond a simple ‘briefing’ – help the spokesperson to build their own story around the messages.

Telling a story that they’re comfortable with not only brings the message to life, but allows the spokesperson to be genuine in their delivery.

It’s the combination of interesting detail and genuine delivery, by someone who’s comfortable with the material, that creates audience connection and propensity to engage.

Journalists Prefer Traditional Comms – Pope Has Balcony Etc Etc

From the hallowed pages of PR Week (issue dated July 22, cover price £57.32) comes this story – and story it is, for no – disbelievers all – the Week has not made it up, oh no, they let Broadgate Mainland(*) make it up for them – t’Week has simply reported it. They’ll make journalists yet.

(* Meisters of Financial Spin of the parish of Old London Town.)

Anyway, before I got so wildly carried away, I meant, bloggy snorkellers mine, to post the link. No, of course you won’t. You’ll simply see if you can make head or tail of the post without going anywhere near the colourful linkey of doom. Wet, is what you are. That being said, maybe there is an Arthurian trotter amongst you and for that brave Templar I provide this – the Holy Link of Har Megiddo. Carefully now – swish and click – obliviate!

(Warning. I am sorry, faithful followers, but in an almost Murdockian stylee, PR Week will wish you to subscribe before you read the article. You may not wish for PR Week to be your horcrux, however, at least, not while there are still pesky kids around.)

So, the article. In brief, it says that while UK corporates are doing more social, a survey of financial journalists (and I think we can take that to mean journalists, period) reveals traditional comms channels remain the more important media relations tools. That’s what it says – ‘more important tools’. With 81% of the 100 surveyed saying that they prefer to receive stories via email, I’d say ‘most important tools’, wouldn’t you?

In other bears-defecating-in-the-woods- type revelations, only 11% thought Facebook was an appropriate corporate comms channel and 97% researched companies via their corporate websites. (Incidentally, a truly spiffing photocaption for the article’s illustration of Zuckerberg’s monster – “‘Inappropriate’ Facebook”.)

So, it’s official. Journalists prefer to get their stories off real people, in real time, via targetted communication. Unsurprisingly.

Other stats in the article included the 38% of FTSE100 companies signing up to Facebook (up from 25% six months ago) and the 56% running a corporate Twitter account (up from 40% in December). And we know why they’re doing this. Mostly peer pressure and a misguided desire to be ‘down with the kids’ and to have their very own shiny object. And, as I’ve said before – if you’re an airline, then Twitter is useful for updating your customers. If you’re a firm of management consultants it is wholly inappropriate (like Facebook). In the case of most of the FTSE100, it is wholly inappropriate.

Just sayin’.

Public Relations – Owning The Media Agenda?

Here’s an interesting piece from O’Leary Analytics in Ireland, who’ve done some work on the media profile, and the coverage achieved by, Ryanair – purveyor of ostensibly cheap, yet somehow slightly threatening, airline travel to the masses.

Their conclusion is that the team at Ryanair, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, actually ‘own’ the media agenda – by which I understand that they manipulate it to their own ends.

Which is fair, and probably true – but what is genuinely interesting here and a real lesson for all communicators is not that Ryanair own the media agenda, but how they have achieved that ownership.

Until I saw O’Leary’s work on this, I presumed that it was the force of personality of (Wee Angry) Michael O’Leary, the airline’s head honcho, a man with a real flair for charm, diplomacy and stakeholder relations. (No, of course he hasn’t.)

But it’s not. What it is, is the company’s fearless willingness to court controversy and – most importantly – to isolate the stories (or make them up, if necessary) that are certain to create that controversy. There’s also no doubt that success and profitability are key imperatives that run throughout the business and occupy everyone’s mind. (Take the case of the Ryanair ‘we’ll make people pay for using the toilet’ story – started as a PR stunt, now seems set to become a reality, presumably because there’s a few euro to be had out of it.)

If you look at the peaks of Ryanair coverage, they’re mostly around stories that are completely calculated to grab media attention – and they’re not all positive. A set of bad results? Discount fares some more! Halve your order for new aircraft? Give some money back to shareholders! Even if it’s bad news, Ryanair do not seek to hide it – no! It’s just another opportunity to court controversy – to take control of the media agenda.

No – lest I be pilloried here – I’m not saying that this works for all companies in the same way it works for Ryanair. Ryanair is happy to have a devil-may-care, abrasive, unsympathetic, non-customer-centric image – O’Leary (Michael, not Analytics) would be the first to say it’s all about keeping prices down – that’s all that matters (in tandem with making some money for the shareholders, obviously). Not all companies – in fact very few companies – would wish to be seen in the same way.

But that’s not to say that we can’t all learn something from the Ryanair example – adapt their mindset and way of doing things to suit our own set-up, and our own corporate culture. And in so doing, maybe get a greater level of control over our media’s agenda.