14 Apr 2012

Why Don’t Reporters Quote Messages? Inconceivable!

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In one office I keep a wall of quotes I’ve either clipped or — because they so delighted me — I copied by hand and tacked up like a fangirl. They’re not from celebs or gurus, but from the news media.  Here’s a few favorites:

“The next time there’s a gold rush like this, if something doesn’t make sense, I’m going to be the one who says, ‘that makes no sense.’ If something looks stupid, it probably is stupid.” — the then-CEO of Topix, about the early tech Bubble

“Just because we are beautiful does not mean we are stupid.”

“That’s just the way Facebook does stuff.”

Why keep these quotes?  Apart from their amusing wisdom and quippy factor?

For the same reason that we at Leap! tell our clients to take most of what they know about sanitized messaging and … forget it.

As a veteran of PR and marketing campaigns for organizations large and small, I guarantee that the CEOs and spokespeople in the above situations were put through their paces and dutifully provided a list of carefully vetted talking points/messages/branding keywords and phrases to which they could safely refer in situation A, B or C.

And yet quotes like “Just because we are beautiful does not mean we are stupid” are what makes it into print (or online).

Put another way, I can’t tell you how many times an executive was carefully prepared, did an interview, and then had one question for which he or she was not prepared — and answered in some semblance of intelligent, natural speech. Guess which quote the reporter used?  “All that preparation,” the exec would fume, “and the reporter uses the *one thing* that I didn’t get approved.”


That’s because a reporter can recognize the ring of truth when he or she hears it.

As can readers. And amidst a bunch of confusing market-y verbiage, words that don’t sound precious or contrived have the refreshing and even attention-grabbing effect of something green and vibrant growing up out of the dust. No wonder people glom onto it.

So here’s some free advice, taken from the halls of Leap.

Figure out your talking points — the things you need to get across. Also figure out the things you cannot say.  Anticipate every question. By all means, prepare, anticipate, think through.  We can help.

Then find a way to answer those questions in your own words — in real, natural speech (oh, we have other tips as well, but then why hire us?).

Try to avoid words that have all the meaning sucked out of them — if they ever had any in the first place.   That doesn’t mean you say something inflammatory or rude, by the way.  Colorful analogies, plain speech — those are the tools of great thinkers and orators through history — before “messaging” became both a noun and a verb.

Are there exceptions to this?

Oh, yes.  We call them crises.

But that, as they say, is for another time.


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