Remember the old Looney Toons cartoons where the talent agent would hit a button activating a trap door that plunged bad acts from his office? Metaphorically, that’s what happens when you deliver a sales pitch to a journalist. The line between PR messages and sales points can get pretty fuzzy. If you cross that line, however, rest assured that any journalist reading or listening to your talking points has their finger on the trap door button (AKA ‘delete’).
With sales-speak, you’re speaking directly to the buyer. With PR messages, you’re speaking to someone who is talking to a fairly wide audience, which hopefully includes your buyer. The following guidelines will help you craft messages that account for this distinction and capture their interest.
It’s all about a story well told
The media is less interested in products than they are in stories. That’s what they write — stories, not commercials. While sales may involve a bit of storytelling, generally the people that you’re talking to are the story — you’re selling them the happy ending. Not so with journalists, who want the story, and will likely reserve the right to choose their own ending.
The devil’s in the details
Usually this phrase indicates that you’re not paying enough attention to detail. However, when it comes to PR messages, the problem often is that you’ve included too much detail. In sales it often makes sense to drill down — someone spending precious departmental dollars may want to examine every nook and cranny of the product. However, a journalist isn’t buying your product, they’re just relating something about it to their audience that they think people will find interesting. Typically diving deep into detail will make your story less interesting. When crafting company messages, constantly ask yourself, “do they really need to hear this?” If the answer isn’t a strong ‘yes,’ strike it from the manuscript.
Knights in New York City
Journalists don’t view potential stories in a vacuum. Far from it, everything you tell them must somehow fit into the context of what they already understand about the industry, or the world. If you’re telling a story about a knight, you’ll probably want the listener to at least understand that it takes place in the Middle Ages — otherwise it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Likewise, think about how your story fits into the larger story of what is going on, so that it resonates.
Seek the perspective of a non-Kool Aid drinker
Once you’ve become embedded in a particular company, it’s natural to start drinking its corporate Kool Aid. However, while you and your team are nodding and confirming each others’ view points, journalists are getting ready to run your talking points through the shredder. Have someone with a fresh perspective, who hasn’t entirely bought into your story yet, review your messages.
Don’t shy away from pushing back with executives.
Company executives are frequently guilty of turning otherwise effective PR messages into a sales pitch. Sometimes the CEO is the worst culprit. It’s not always easy to push back on these folks, who are often the ones writing the check. However, allowing them to have their way and turn key messages into a sales deck will ultimately hurt your chances of getting the results they’re expecting — in the long run, this will irk them a lot more than constructive criticism on messaging.
Of course you want to handle this diplomatically — don’t give the impression that you think their ideas stink. Rather, when they insert sales-speak, get to the root of what they’re trying to express. Once you’ve identified the core idea, you can usually work it back into the messaging in a way that won’t turn off journalists.