How do you improve your chances of getting your key messages in news stories?

I get asked that a lot. Some folks suggest supplying background and sales materials, discussion guides or even suggested questions. And anything that essentially proves you're just parroting your messaging statements isn't going to help your cause either.

Here's me getting interviewed at SxSW 2009.

Media relations isn’t sales

The easiest way to get your messaging heard is to make sure your key messages aren’t sales messages, and that you don’t come off as a salesperson or spin doctor. When reporters feel "sold" or like they're getting "a line", you're done. We smell it from a mile away. And we won't play ball.

I think too many people focus on the message in one form, as if it were a slogan or something. But that's not the most effective way to look at it. So if that's what you mean by "messaging" then you're going to be fighting an uphill battle all the way.

Take an organic approach

If what you mean is some key concepts -- the broader thoughts behind the messaging -- then it can definitely happen. This requires a more organic approach to "messaging". Definitely lay it all out in a messaging document (here's how we do that), but don't memorize the actual wording so much as memorize the meaning. Stay focused on the purpose (what you want people to think or do after they hear the message).

If the core concepts of the messaging are correct, and if you practice enough, your "messaging statements" will become more organic and in context to the interview, rather than sounding like you were trying to get your messaging in there.

Focus on the audience

One way to do that is to relay your messaging concepts in examples or evidence that serve both your goals and the audience's needs (and part of your audience is the reporter doing the interview). Instead of focusing on your messaging directly, try tackling it from this perspective:

  • Who’s the audience for the media outlet?
  • What questions will they (the readers, listeners, viewers, followers, etc.) have about the topic?

Strive to answer those questions through the lens of your key messages. That way, as you prepare for the interview, you’ll be presenting your messages through the filter of the audiences needs, not just your agenda.

This is good prep for your interview. And if you wanted to use that information as part of your responses, that’s cool it’s an appropriate answer to a question. Otherwise, many reporters will ask if there’s anything else you want to say, and you can share this information at that time. But the real value of the exercise is getting your focus off yourself and onto your audience.

Bonus item

An additional upside: This strategy also is effective in sales and marketing presentations and materials. Why? Because people -- whether they're reporters, customers or prospects -- are more receptive when they feel you're being real and understand that they don't work for you.