The 24-hour news cycle drowns countless stories that deserve attention. Stories cannot land press coverage without a tasty soundbite, as Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson describes them. Hence it is paramount to design, deliver and circulate soundbites strategically.
Here are two that have stood the test of time:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” - FDR
“I have a dream” – Dr. MLK Jr
Both famously symbolize a moment in history and crystallize a broad message. They articulate a vision for shared destiny–one with economic security and the other with democratic freedoms–all in just a few words. As Dr. Tyson says, “Why do you think we call them bites?”
Below are tips for creating pithy, memorable and newsworthy soundbites and getting them seen.
DESIGN FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT
Let’s do an exercise. The day following Dr. King’s 1963 speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, headlines nationwide flashed the words “I Have a Dream.” Now, envision headlines covering your speech, statement, interview or press conference. What would they say?
Designing your soundbite as a perfect world headline forces you to keep it concise and to the point, without room for embellishment. Journalists will appreciate the punchy quote that fits flawlessly into their news stories and scoop-alert tweets. These increase the odds of publication or broadcast…or both. It is a win-win.
And please, resist simply regurgitating background information that the media can source without quoting you. Your soundbite should not repeat what already is known. Instead, provide a unique perspective.
BUILD A STRATEGIC NETWORK
Preparing a soundbite that advances your vision, mission and brand is not enough. You need a strategic network of relationships with journalists, reporters and news producers. Here’s why.
Negative and provocative stories sell, research says. A study found US national media coverage of COVID-19 was overwhelmingly negative (87 percent), contrasted with 51 percent of international stories on the pandemic.
A separate study found President Biden’s media coverage was as bleak in the final months of 2021, despite notable successes, as his predecessor’s 2020 coverage during a very down moment.
Media members decide which soundbites to disseminate. Often, the unfavorable and triggering ones prevail. As the NY Times puts it: “The U.S. media is giving the audience what it wants.”
But you are not powerless in this process.
The key is to proactively familiarize journalists, reporters and producers with your work and goals. Develop mutual trust. Expand your base. While media’s job is to remain independent, help journalists understand why your stories are meaningful and worthy of (positive) coverage.
Further, each relationship becomes a direct pathway to swiftly get your soundbites out the door in response to breaking news.
WHEN IT’S FINALLY SHOWTIME
Now that your soundbite is ready, be sure to strike while (or when) the iron is hot. Timing is just as imperative as your words. If no media opportunity to deliver your soundbite occurs organically at the right moment, orchestrate one with your network of reporters. Promptly.
Once cameras roll and microphones begin recording, tell your story. Deliver your soundbite as soon as possible during live events. You never know when the host will wrap up or the network will cut the feed.
Suppose the conversation pulls you in a different direction. Do not get distracted. Pivot, bridge and get to your soundbite.
Working alongside talented journalists who arm the public with facts, uphold democracy and amplify high-stake narratives is an honor. But in the current media landscape, it is difficult to break through the noise. It’s an art. Design, deliver and circulate the perfect soundbite. It will help your stories get featured and make an impact.
Jonah Bryson is a spokesperson for the NAACP. Follow him: @JonahLBryson