This year’s primaries are particularly dicey, and the debates, media interviews and comments from the candidates are like a game of slip and slide. Jabs, smart quips and awkward flounders interweave to create a cacophony of arguments that are hard to follow.
Some of the momentary slips or decisions are stunningly bad – like Sanders revisiting his positive thoughts on Castro, or Bloomberg’s look of shock when Warren went after his NDAs with female employees. And there are more, way more, examples of politicians on every side of the aisle fumbling, quipping or arguing their way to the point.
As a veteran PR professional, some of the biggest points I make in media training are being played out. For B2B tech and software marketers, the good and the bad within these debates offer pointers for communicating with the press and other stakeholders:
- Always know what you’ll be asked and have a response.
In advance of media interviews, it’s important to analyze what could come up as much as what is supposed to be asked, and then have a response on hand. We always look at a reporter’s previous coverage to see what is likely to be of high interest to them. It’s also important that the PR team be informed of any corporate skeletons in the closet or any issues inherent to the industry that could come up. We research to understand prevailing concerns and issues in the industry. However, to create on-message responses, there must be a 360-degree review of the landscape that includes input from the entire team.
- Practice some good summaries or “one-liners.”
Just like candidate one-liners can have a resounding impact with voters, a spokesperson providing a crisp summary or one-line descriptive can be very effective within the context of media interviews. Analytical language and industry terms can alienate the media and need to be minimized. However, drawing contrast or pointing out differentiators to contextualize a solution in a memorable statement is powerful. It’s important to have a set of summary statements on hand to drive your point home.
- Have data, not just dreams.
It’s one thing for a candidate to pontificate on the expansion or reduction of government programs, and it’s another to show the data on how it works. In both PR and politics, providing context for how a solution addresses pain-points in the form of real data makes any and all arguments more powerful – because data is viewed as more objective. Spokespeople should be equipped with the data and points to address reporters’ questions quickly and then be able to back them up.
- You can’t quite call out competitors the same way.
A key candidate strategy is the pointed, snappy put-down; it does well in the polls! However, in business, no matter how bad a competitor’s legacy technology may be, slamming them directly is poor practice. Inefficient legacy systems still rule in many corners. In these circumstances, we recommend contrasting to a more progressive industry and focusing on the innovation and efficiencies gained. The point here is to speak positively to the market about the benefits, not about the competitor.
At this point in the debate season, we may wish we could cut to the Saturday Night Live skit and skip the actual responses. But, since we’re living it, it may be worth putting on a communications strategist’s analytical glasses, see what there is to learn, and apply it to marketing.