There’s media training…and then there’s media training. On most courses out there in training land delegates will learn about the importance of key messages: the two or three things they, as an interviewee, must get across to avoid a missed opportunity, or worse still, avoid being taken down dark and dangerous “alleyways” by the journalist, straight into an “ambush”.
Often we hear and see interviewees on broadcast channels who come out of the blocks in a robust fashion, and, to continue the metaphor, hit the ground running with their first, and sometimes their only key message. At this point their corporate comms director, who is probably sitting just outside the studio, has a lovely warm feeling, reflecting on how useful that recent media training workshop was, as they figuratively tick a box in a sort of game of key message bingo:
Eyes down, here we go:
“Our company goes the extra mile when it comes to customer service”. Tick.
“We’re the most innovative telecoms business in the UK”. Tick.
“We want to become the go-to bank”. Tick.
Oh no it isn’t. That last one was spouted about four times in just six minutes recently by Antony Jenkins, the boss of Barclays Bank. That was grating enough, but the real mistake was not backing it up with examples – why should customers suddenly go to Barclays? Does it have shorter queuing times, better rates for savers, more branches, someone ironing tenners and polishing the coins before they cross the counters perhaps?
Another key message many banks spout is how you have to pay high salaries or enormous bonuses to attract talent. This is a very hard message to sell for several reasons. Firstly, it suggests you don’t have the talent now; secondly, at the height of the banking crisis huge bonuses were paid and look where we ended up and thirdly, why should banks be a special case? All industries need to attract talent and many do so very successfully, without spending lottery-sized sums.
But what I’ve yet to hear is an example to explain why paying megabucks is ultimately good for business and customers. Interviewees should be saying something like, “Only last week I spoke to one of our staff, who had generated five times the business of her predecessor, which we can re-invest to benefit customers,” or , “On average bankers generate £3 for every £1 they’re paid,” or, “It may be uncomfortable politics, but it’s realistic economics and at least much of the bonuses goes back to the Treasury and helps fund schools and hospitals etc…”
Or how about, “In banking key individuals can make an enormous difference. It’s a bit like Manchester United after Alex Ferguson left. I’m sure most United fans would happily see him paid whatever he asked for if he could return the side to winning form.” Then of course there’s always this: “It’s a harsh reality but in the last two years the number of bankers heading west to the States has doubled. That’s because they’re paid far more there and when money talks, staff walk.”
So don’t focus on key messages without thinking how you must illustrate them – it’s like spotting an Old Master in a shop, but only buying the frame. Your words, especially if you keep repeating them, will be hollow, dull and serve no purpose…except to make you sound wooden.