Thursday, September 25, 2008

Being a Good Spokesperson

Regardless of job title, all spokespeople must possess the same basic qualities. In addition to being authorised to represent the organisation, a spokesperson should:

• Resonate with your audience
• Project a good visual presence
• Possess good quality of voice (particularly when speaking live, or on radio and television)
• Maintain a good rapport with journalists
• Remain readily accessible to the media

Although some of these qualities directly reflect the individual's personality, others can be learned and refined over time. Therefore, regardless of the spokesperson's level of experience, proper media training is essential. Conveying key messages and being savvy about how to avoid missteps are skills that can be learned.

A little training can go a long way
A good spokesperson knows how to be interviewed and is aware of what journalists want. Here are just a few points to consider when training your representative to be an effective spokesperson:

Image. How you look can and will affect audience perception. Visual perception accounts for at least 60 percent of how audiences take in messages. At least another 30 percent is auditory, while the remaining is the actual message or what the audience believes is the message (The Spin Project, Broadcast Media and Spokesperson Skills, 2008).

Rehearsal. Practicing before hand helps prevent stumbling and mumbling during the real interview or appearance and helps perpetuate a sense of confidence and authority.

Sound bites. Sometimes all you have is a moment to punctuate key messages, or perhaps a journalist needs only one quote or phrase to set the tone for the entire piece. Your spokesperson should be prepared with snippets.

Control. You may not be able to direct a journalist's line of questioning. However, you can still maintain control of the answers by transitioning them in a way that reinforces the key messages you want to convey.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Email Revolution

Everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail.

Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let's not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with.

If you feel the same way, then it’s time to get together; maybe we can start a revolution.

The problem is that readers now bear the burden. Before e-mail, senders shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. Plus, each new addressee meant more postage, so we thought hard about whom to send things to.

E-mail reversed that system in no time. With free sending to an infinite number of people now a reality, every little thought and impulse becomes instant communication. Our most pathetic meanderings become deep thoughts that we happily blast to six dozen colleagues who surely can't wait. On the receiving end, we collect these gems of wisdom from the dozens around us. The result: Inbox overload.

Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.

What's the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I'm going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.

1 - Use a subject line to summarise, not describe.
People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it's relevant. The best way to do this is to summarise your message in your subject.

BAD SUBJECT: Subject: Deadline discussion

GOOD SUBJECT: Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th

2 - Give your reader full context at the start of your message.
Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to.

You're probably sending e-mail because you're deep in thought about something. Your reader is too; only they're deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn't help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it's rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you're too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.

To: Mickey Mouse
From: Minnie Mouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive
Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

To: Mickey Mouse
From: Minnie Mouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.
You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

3 - When you copy lots of people (a heinous practice that should be used sparingly), mark out why each person should care.

Just because you send a message to six poor co-workers doesn't mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you're sending to each recipient, and let him or her know at the start of the message what he or she should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you're including each person.

To: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck
Subject: Press Release draft is done
The Press Release draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The PR agency will need our responses by the end of the week.

To: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck
Subject: Press Release draft is done

Mickey: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft

Minnie: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the release capture our branding?

Donald: FYI, if we need to translate to Arabic, your translation project will slip.

The Press Release draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The PR Agency will need our responses by the end of the week.

4 - Use separate messages rather than bcc (blind carbon copy).
If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed. Yes, it's more work for you, but if we all do it, it's less overload.

To: Donald
Bcc: Mickey
Please attend the PR meeting today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Donald
Please attend the PR meeting today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Mickey
Please reserve the conference room for Donald and me today at 2:00 p.m.

5 - Make action requests clear.
If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There's nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarise action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

6 - Separate topics into separate e-mails … up to a point.
If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can't, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.

Do this when mixing controversy with the mundane. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.

We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Pluto?

Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Message #2: Pluto's missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?

7 - Combine separate points into one message.
Sometimes the problem is the opposite - sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you'll save a ton of time.

8 - Edit forwarded messages.
For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don't forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn't get the original sender in trouble.

To: Mickey
Minnie's idea, described below, is great.
From: Minnie
Hey, Daisy:

Let's take the new press release and add a picture of the product. Mickey probably won't mind; his design sense is so garish he'll approve anything.

To: Mickey
Minnie's idea, described below, is great.
From: Minnie
Hey, Daisy:

Let's take the new press release and add a picture of the product.

9 - When scheduling a call or conference, include the topic in the invitation. It helps people prioritize and manage their calendar more effectively.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review press tour details.

10 - Make your e-mail one page or less.
Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient's mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.

Understand how people prefer to be reached, and how quickly they respond.
Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can't reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone's overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don't assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.

11 - How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you're putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they're secretly envying your strength of character.

12 - Check e-mail at defined times each day.
We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we're trying to get something useful done?

Turn off your e-mail "autocheck". Please, please, please – turn it off.

Only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand.

Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn't the way. When it's e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.

13 - Use a paper "response list" to prioritise messages before you do any follow-up.
The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there's important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.

14 - Charge people for sending you messages.
One CEO I've worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.

15 - Train people to be relevant.
If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren't relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favour to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn't relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticise or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you'll be so well trained you'll be positively productive!

16 - Answer briefly.
When someone sends you a ten-page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You'll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you'll have no choice.

17 - Send out delayed responses.
Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.

(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select ‘Do not deliver before’. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)

18 - Ignore it.
Yes, ignore e-mail. If something's important, you'll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it's not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it's certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.

Your only solution is to take action.

Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work for you. Hogwash. Just one can bring some semblance of order to your inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When to target Bloggers in PR

The Entrepreneurs Organisation recently polled their 7,000 members in 38 countries and asked these business owners:

Is Blogging a valuable business tool for you?

And the results are in…
Yes, and I blog on a regular basis = 36%

No, but I blog for other reasons = 16% 

No, I don't see the value in blogging = 36%

Other = 12 %

A resounding split. A third of the business owner community around the world are interested in blogging. A third not. The rest, not so much.

In our PR work we often come across clients that are targeting ‘business owners’ as their clients. And I expect the EO’s membership criteria is a pretty accurate a target within this category.

So should PR agencies be spending so much effort ‘influencing’ bloggers?

Personally, I think that a PR pro should be conscious of their target audience. If that target audience are, for example, The Millennial generation (16-27 year olds) who grew up with broadband, the Internet and mobile phones and for whom technology has a huge impact on their lifestyles, then bloggers are for sure an important target.

However, if the target includes, for example ‘business owners’ then maybe the weighting of other more traditional media should be seriously considered.

Just an idea.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 3 of 3 - Brevity

Beautiful things come in small packages.

The public’s desire for brevity is universal. Blame it on MTV, blame it on media as a whole, but if CNN can bring you the “Hollywood minute” to sum up all entertainment news into 60 seconds and Fox gives us “The World in Eighty Seconds”, you can sure cut some of that press release.

Edit your media copy to make it as short as possible. Then edit it again to shorten it. Then pass it to a colleague to get them to shorten it.

Keep it short. Period.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 2 of 3 - Clarity

There is a too much drivel out there. Pick up 99% of press releases and read the boilerplate (the last paragraph that explains what the company does). Drivel! Too many ‘isms’ and not a lot of sense. Really – most of them don’t actually make sense. Try looking at an online press release service and just read a few.

1. State the wow!
2. Cut the jargon
3. Dress up the message with enhancers
4. Streamline approval

Don’t tell me what the company does – tell me what it offers its customers. It’s not the company that sells the product or service, it is the benefit that customers obtain from it that is your message.

No wow: example

Wow: example

Buzz words are not for media copy. They should be thrown out of the dictionary all together, but seeing as I’m not an editor for the Oxford English, we can together work to get them out of your PR tools.

For a start, lets delete for good – next-generation, core competencies, out of the loop, value-add, think outside the box, results-driven, empower, knowledge base, at the end of the day.

We once had a South African girl that worked for us. She diariesed, theorised and actionised herself out of a job. We could not handle it any more. Don’t use three words if it can be said in one and don’t use words of three syllables if it can be said with one syllable words.

So now that you have cut to the wow, and cut out the jargon, you have some room to clarify even further with some message enhancers. Examples include:

If you’re not using public relations properly it’s like shouting to a room of def people.

When the United Nations World Food Program wanted to radically increase their donations but didn’t have much of a budget they approached NettResults. Let me tell you what we did for them…

The Holmes Report recognised NettResults at the Saber Awards as the leading PR agency in the Middle East and Africa region.

For one of our clients, Creative Labs, we guaranteed the amount of coverage we would achieve week after week - showing that we stand by our service level.

Typically we can increase your marketing budget by a factor of five. If your retainer value is $10,000 a month, then we will be getting $50,000 of coverage equivalent – i.e. that is how much it would have cost you if you’d paid to advertise in the same space.

As Amer Farid of Habib Bank AG Zurich says, “We have partnered with NettResults for over eight years now because they not only produce great results, but they are as passionate about our business as we are.”

One last thing to add clarity to your message is to update your approval process. A press release should be like a racing horse and not a camel. The camel is what you get if designed by a committee. Your press releases and press materials are not to be designed by committee. Streamline the approval process. If at all possible keep the product managers away – then it won’t get too techy. The less managers – the clearer the message. At all costs keep the legal department away – they’ll water your message down with their neurotics.