I have been working on one or two new product launches over the past few weeks, and that means putting CEOs and senior managers in front of reporters and analysts to tell a story. It’s amazing how many executives are bad at storytelling. They are confident speaking to managers, their board of directors, even venture capitalists, but when it comes to telling a compelling story to editors many seem at a loss.
Effective media training can address a number of these problems and actually show senior executives how to think like a reporter. It can show managers what is really newsworthy and printable, and help them tell a story. I want to direct you to a new white paper by seasoned freelance writer Mark Halper and offered by Johnson King. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Mike King for many years, and can’t recommend a better high-tech PR firm if you are looking to break into the EMEA market.)
Mark had some interesting observations in his white paper; observations from which all executives can benefit. I suggest you read Mark’s comments for yourself, but here are some highlights.
- Know your audience. I prepare briefing documents for all my clients. In those briefing sheets are insights about the reporter, his publication, its audience, and likely topics of interest and questions that might be asked. From the interviews that follow from those briefing sheets, I have to wonder if the clients actually read them. In order to get coverage, you have to offer information that is informative and relevant to the editor. (And by the way, Mark’s penguin analogy is much more colorful than my insights here.) Today, for example, I had an interview with Skype Journal about a client’s new product. Fortunately, most of the conversation focused on Skype but it could easily have taken a left turn, focusing on other non-Skype-related product features that would have been irrelevant to the story. Too often clients become so focused on their own script that they neglect the human element – connecting with the reporter and asking him what he needs to file his story.
- There is no such thing as “off the record.” This is a common failing that I have seen the most experienced executives make. They are so busy trying to establish a rapport with a reporter that they forget the rules of engagement. You need to know when to reveal information and when to withhold it, and you need to know that there really is no such thing as “off the record.”
- Make it colorful. Anecdotes are incredibly useful. The right story or key phrase can stick in the mind of the reporter and make you look larger than life. Remember that no matter who the reporter is writing for, readers are always people and they gravitate toward interesting stories and anecdotes.
- Not just the facts, tell a story! In order to make their articles interesting, reporters must be storytellers. In the world of high-tech, reporters always ask for analyst and customer references, not just to validate new technology but because third parties add color. I recently landed an interview for a client with the San Francisco Chronicle about corporations adopting social media strategies. The quotes that made print were the colorful anecdotes about customer observations and trends that put a human face and connection on the story.
As Mark states, “Executives should not underestimate the storytelling aspect of journalism.” Media training can not only teach executives how to control an interview, but how to “keep it real” and give the interviewee the kind of color commentary that makes a compelling story that goes deeper than the facts.