When it comes to clothing, most people cant
resist tugging on a loose thread, even though they know that the
action might lead to a sartorial disaster. When it comes to corporate
messages, however, most companies are loath to tug on a loose
thread (a shaky idea) for fear that their nice tight beliefs might
come undone. After all, it took two months to get everyone
on board - no way theyre going to go backwards now. So its:
"Damn the loose threads - full spokespeak ahead!"
Not so fast admirals. You wont be doing your spokespeople
any great favours by sending them on the road with flimsy messages
that can be easily teased apart. Here are some of the loose threads
that can leave your spokespeople standing naked when their messages
unravel at the hands of journalists, editors, and industry analysts.
A hidden "if" clause. The message is true or plausible
if the listener thinks about it in a certain way, as in "we
really do dominate out market space if you exclude the B and C segment."
A sure sign that youre dealing with an "if" clause
is that a champion of the message (usually the person who thought
of it) vehemently insists that those members of your team who dont
"get it" arent looking at the message from the "right"
perspective. The problem is that journalists and analysts dont
operate on the old fast food principle, "have it your way."
Its their way or no way.
A flaky assertion. Its remarkable how many companies
send their spokespeople on press tours with patently hollow claims
of "first mover" or "thought leader" [yuk!]
status, and the like. The claims are hollow because they arent
accompanied by supporting data or third party validation. If you
can legitimately lay claim to market leadership, then tout it ("According
to the XYZ Research Group, we own 46 percent of the market
But if the message is essentially happy hour fluff designed to make
people feel good about working 90 hours a week, its likely
to end up a pile of threads.
Wishful thinking. "We want to be the leader
in our field." Whoopie - which of your competitors doesnt!?
"We hope to generate significant revenues from our new
solution." Aristotle concluded, "hope is a waking dream."
Unfortunately, few journalists and analysts are interested in what
you dream of doing; they want to know what youve actually
accomplished while youre wide awake in the here and now.
Future pretense. This is a close relative of the "wishful
thinking" thread. It goes like this: "Were planning
to launch a major incentive program for our VARs and other channel
partners." Or "Were going to be creating
a new customer satisfaction program in the near future." The
common element here is the tense - the future tense. Tug on the
future tense and
look ma, no program! At least not yet. Dont
tout major programs or initiatives that dont exist today;
youll very likely regret it tomorrow.
Stale stuff. "We offer an award-winning solution."
Awarded by whom? Well, the assertion used to be true - last year.
This is akin to a restaurants displaying a yellowing "Best
" award from ten years ago. The question of course,
is: "whats the rating this year?"
Tug on any of these loose threads, and the message ceases to be
so appealing; the bare truth is that the message is not really valid
or useful at all. Thats why its prudent to test your
messages for loose threads in the privacy of your own conference
room before making a public showing. When you do find one, its
not necessarily time to scrap the fabric; finding and yanking on
loose threads is a healthy exercise that can lead to a strong and
elegant message that any spokesperson would feel good about displaying
Steve Bennett is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based
media trainer who specializes in helping spokespeople of high-technology
companies deliver effective strategic messages to: the trade, business,
and consumer media; analysts; stakeholders; and the public. An active
journalist in the computer field, Steve is also a sought-after freelance
spokesperson by major corporations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by calling 617-492-0442, or at www.mediamentor.com.
the Media Can Be Positive For Your Business
Resource Shelf - #30 - Review of Media Relations by Allan Bonner