If you heard a media spokesperson talk about ‘being synonymous with circularity’, would you know what they were talking about?
Would you keep listening to what they had to say or would you zone out in a state of confusion?
Well, I heard this phrase being used last week and it serves as a great reminder of the importance of avoiding jargon in media interviews.
It came when Anne Pitcher, the managing director of Selfridges, appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to discuss its new environmental initiative.
‘Project Earth’ aims to encourage customers to reuse, refill and repair products rather than buy new ones.
That’s a simple enough message. But here is how it was presented at the start of this interview, which you can listen to here at 1:18:
“Today we launch Project Earth, which is our sustainability initiative aimed at changing the way we shop and the way we do business, with tough and ambitious targets to meet by 2025.
“And the three things we will do are, explore the new circular business models of rent, resell, repair and recycle, making us synonymous with circularity.
“We will set ambitious targets around nine different materials and we will challenge our teams’ and customers’ mindsets.”
Now, talking about “circular business models” and being “synonymous with circularity” may sound good in the boardroom.
It may well make sense to people in similar roles in other organisations.
But to the majority of people, it is meaningless and when the audience is bamboozled, they switch off and zone out.
That Selfridges woman was the worst case of meaningless guff I’ve heard for a while. #r4today— Ruth Frost ❄️☃️❄️ (@23ruthie) August 17, 2020
Selfridges word soup... #r4today— Lee Cox (@Jackcabnory) August 17, 2020
Boss of selfridges says her new plan to recycle more is about “making us synonymous with circularity”. Somebody give her a lesson in plain language #r4today— Kate Ferguson (@kateferguson4) August 17, 2020
On our media training courses, we always stress the importance of spokespeople using plain English. We recommend they use the same language they would use if they were talking to a friend or family member in a pub or café. And if is hard to imagine “synonymous with circularity” being used in those settings.
Good messages and interviews are instantly understandable. Ideally, you want to keep the language simple enough for a 10-year-old to understand. Your certainly don’t want the presenters to be laughing and joking about the language you had just used, as happened here.
#r4today presenters openly laughing at Selfridges envirogabble whilst defending incompatible group strategies.— Nookie Bore (@dominic4346) August 17, 2020
But the other key issue with the language used in this example is that it made the interview sound scripted – as if Ms Pitcher was recycling a press release or media statement – and consequently it lacked conviction.
Imagine how much more impactful it would be if the story was told using everyday language, perhaps backed up with an example of how Ms Pitcher already reuses and repairs in her day-to-day life.
If she wasn’t happy to share a personal example, she could paint a picture of what this new approach may look like for customers.
Not only would people be far more likely to keep listening, but they would also be more sympathetic to what she had to say. Human warmth goes a long way.
But the importance of using simple language is not the only key media training lesson here.
What also stood out about the interview was how quickly it switched from discussing this new sustainability initiative to far more challenging questions.
Ms Pitcher faced questions about ‘fast fashion’, why Selfridges has a different message to Primark despite having the same owners, and whether executive salaries should be tied to environmental performance.
Challenging stuff and Ms Pitcher probably spent more time discussing these issues than she did the initiative she had set out to talk about, despite some attempts to try and steer the conversation.
And that’s a key point for other spokespeople, because no matter how well-intentioned the scheme or project you want to talk about, you always need to prepare for wider, more challenging, issues – either in the sector or more generally – to be brought into the conversation.
And you need to consider how you will respond to questions on those issues and make sure you are confident about using media training techniques like bridging to take control of the interview and steer the conversation more to what you want to talk about.
If you sound scripted or use language that is meaningless to the majority, the journalist will be even more likely to explore other areas.
Selfridges is far from the first organisation to fall into the jargon trap – it is something we continue to see in many media interviews.
But using it here wasted a great opportunity to promote its new environmental push to a wider audience.
Do you want to find out more about preparing for a media interview? Download your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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