It started with an email pitch to a TV reporter. Following that were emails coordinating details, lining up interviews and shoring up a local angle for the story. During the event the reporter spent 90 minutes on site conducting interviews and recording camera shots. Ingredients were in the mixing bowl for a great local story (the white whale of PR).
The story aired on the station’s evening newscast that weekend — all 60 seconds of it. Hours of prep and coordination…with a one-minute segment to show for it, including just 9 seconds of airtime for our spokespersons. Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame seemed a lifetime by comparison.
No doubt, this was a successful earned media hit. It was tailored to our local, target audience and was punchy. Besides the original airing, the story ran a handful of times on other newscasts. But the experience underscored a timeless truth in communications: It is critical to make your media interviews count.
As PR pros, we yearn for the best coverage. And, keeping our biases in check, of course, we often deem our issues worthy of prominent and positive press. Reporters, though, have only so many words they can write on a page and limited airtime – particularly in a competitive, rapid news environment.
What was the lesson? There is no substitute for succinct message development and storytelling.
The Rule of 3
Increasing distractions and declining attention spans mean people absorb a limited amount of information. Even tweets that go beyond 140 characters are hard to follow. This reality makes it imperative in any advocacy effort – especially in a news-interview setting – that you stick with the Rule of 3. Focus on developing a core message along with three supporting points.
To build those messages, put yourself in the shoes of the target audience. Think about what you want to achieve and the points that will connect and stick with your audience. For example, you are a property developer and need local support for the construction of a residential building. Perhaps your supporting points are that the residential building will: 1) Increase property values; 2) attract more business development in the community; and 3) improve neighborhood safety. With these supporting points, your core message, “Support our new building!” is on solid, persuasive ground.
Once you have developed those ideas, shorten them so they can be delivered succinctly during an interview. Mold your message into the size of a tweet – one that can be delivered in 10 seconds or fewer on camera.
Tell a Story
The other critical, and perhaps most important, tool for your advocacy activities is telling stories. As we know, storytelling is the vehicle that carries your messages and establishes an emotional bond with audiences. Stories build context and place your messages in a real setting for audiences to picture – especially those listening or watching at home.
Returning to our property developer example, you could tell the story of how one of your past projects actually improved a community, in other words, a success story. Even better: A resident or neighbor goes on camera on your behalf to tell this story. Without the emotional connection stories can establish, the appeal to your audience might fall flat. So, make audiences smile, laugh, cry or take action – and have a short, powerful story ready to tell.
Hopefully these are useful lessons – or reminders – as you think about how to make your 60 (or 9!) seconds count. Remember: Your target audience will be watching and it’s up to you to make sure it notices.
Michael Kaplun is a senior strategist at The Fratelli Group.