Posted tagged ‘messages’

Meet the Media Types

January 17, 2008

Despite all the hoopla about user-generated content, citizen news and other new media, traditional media is still the main target for most marketers and communicators looking for a little promotion. Plus, they’ve now been joined by hundreds of other content publishers who are for all intents and purposes mini-news operations. Technology has changed formats –most traditional media operations are also new media now — but the underlying journalistic principles remain the same.

That’s probably why media training is still an essential part of marketing and communications, even though it has changed slightly. For example, as was highlighted in my previous post about Hacks and Flacks, the days of shotgunning messages — the blast and pray technique –to the media are over.

It’s even truer today that if you’re going to work with the media — in whatever form — you have to understand who you’re working with. That means you have to do a little more research on the particular media person you’re hoping to contact.

Following is a handy guide to some common media personality types. Not everyone fits each exactly, and often each denizen of every newsroom has touches of all of them. But one personality type usually dominates.

Also, with many newspeople, different types can dominate at different times in their careers. So, when dealing with a news person, it’s up to you to figure out which personality is dominant at the moment.

1. The Careerist. The careerist is climbing the journalism ladder and so is much more concerned with his or her career or business than your story. At their best, careerists unearth the nuggets that are hidden within your story; at their worst, they are pompous connivers who treat you as mere fodder for their career arc. The upside: They’re usually consummate professionals. The downside: Too often, they look for the most sensational elements that will get them — not you — noticed.

2. The Journo. Been there, done that, and all the t-shirts have faded. The journo has been kicking around for some time and long ago stopped worrying about his or her career. As sharp observers of societal trends (and of their superiors’ or advertisers’ quirky wants) journos tend to concentrate only on the story, finding, fixing, and filing it professionally and quickly before heading off to the next one. The upside: Journos’ loyalty is only to the tenets of journalism, so you’ll probably get a fair hearing. The downside: A lifetime of isolation from anyone but their media brethren means they can be very cynical and distant.

3. The Squirrel. All data is good data to squirrels, who are really closeted engineers or researchers, most commonly found in technology journalism. These information gatherers take great pride in knowing more details than anyone else and occasionally snowing you under with their knowledge. The squirrel will unearth obscure reports, 100-page studies, and interview 25 industry experts, all for a 300 word story. The upside: Boy, are they thorough. The downside: They often get lost in their own information; your story will too.

4. The Explorer: It’s the journey not the destination that is important to the explorer. Explorers are hunter-gatherers who want to understand what underlies everything. But since it’s the process of understanding that gives them the thrill, once they get there, they rapidly lose interest. Upside: They’re very collaborative if you can keep them stimulated. Downside: If you or your story aren’t interesting, they’re not interested.

5. The Rebel. Because journalism provides one of the few jobs in which they can continually give the finger to everyone, and at the same time subvert the system from within, rebels tend to move into the media when they’re young. Also, journalism creates a channel that allows them to cross social and class distinctions and connect with (and sometimes frighten) people with whom they wouldn’t normally mix. Upside: Rebels love the “afflict the comfortable” part of the old journalistic rule and so make great advocates. Downside: Too often, everything is fitted to a very narrow range of thinking, usually along the lines of Us vs Them. They don’t see a lot of gray.

6. The Project Manager. If there’s only one way to do things, project managers always know what it is, because they’re most comfortable in well grooved paths. If your story breaks one of the rules, i.e. government bad, little guy good, look out. They’ll also dismiss your press release or messaging in a second if it contains some obvious error, muddled thinking, over-the-top or obscure language, or mispellings. Upside: They make great editors and story assessors because journalism is essentially a rule-based business, and they know all the rules. Bow to their wisdom and you’re in. Downside. Make a mistake, lack logic, fail to back up your claims, or sell too hard, and they’ll brutalize you.

Making Messages Memorable

November 18, 2007

In its latest newsletter, the consulting firm McKinsey has an interview with Stanford organizational professor Chip Heath regarding his new book Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die.

Heath asserts that in an increasingly complex world, company leaders have to sum up their businesses in messages that “stick” in the minds of employees, investors, and customers. Since it’s usually marketers and communicators who are charged with creating these messages, Made To Stick is probably a worthwhile read.

One thing that interested me in the interview was Heath’s point about organizational expertise often getting in the way of making messages memorable.

Chiefs are so immersed in what they do, they forget that the rest of the world isn’t: So they’re incapable of translating that information into simple — not simplistic — messages that can be grasped by outsiders.

I’m sure that every marketer and communicator, especially those working in technology and related sectors, has encountered this problem.

The Leader wants a tagline, headline, or other simple message that explains the company’s vision or values. But all he can do is come up with an abstract slogan like the meaningless phrase “Maximize Shareholder Value”. (Does any organization actually want to minimize shareholder value?)

I’m convinced that part of this problem is the business organizational imperative itself. Because they’re arranged in industrial structures that emphasize execution, organizations reward precise thinking. After all, you succeed in the MBA program by providing precise, detailed, answers.

But there are times when you don’t want precision or detail: You need to think in big sweeping ideas, at the 50,000 foot level, and encompass what you do in a concrete, memorable message.

Chip Heath’s research suggests that sticky ideas share six basic traits.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last. Proverbs such as the golden rule are short but also deep enough to guide the behavior of people over generations.
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin? Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts when the most credible source is the person listening to the message. Questions—“Have you experienced this?”—are often more credible than outside experts.
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”