“Say it. Mean it. Put it down in legislation.”
This was the key message in a media interview that grabbed our attention last week.
Those words came from Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union, when she appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme (which you can listen to here at 54 minutes and 20 seconds) to urge the government to protect UK food safety and welfare standards ahead of a key Agriculture Bill vote.
So, what’s so good about the message?
Well, the crucial factors are that it is short, snappy and simple – important if you want people to remember what you want them to do.
Anything longer, or containing complex language, will be too difficult for people to recall. The message here not only stayed with me as the programme moved on to other items, but also a few days later when I came to write this blog.
Another factor is that the NFU message also has a clear call to action, albeit targeted at politicians rather than the wider audience.
This is important. With any message, you need to be clear on exactly who you are targeting and what you want them to do as a result of hearing it.
Do you want them to be motivated into taking some form of action? Do you want them to be persuaded by a particular point or argument? Maybe you simply want to raise awareness of a product, initiative or campaign.
The NFU president didn’t use the message until right at the end of the interview. Although it was a strong note to end on, spokespeople should get to their message earlier. On our training courses, we stress the importance of getting your message across at the start of interviews and then sticking with it and repeating it regularly.
That doesn’t mean parroting it word for word – that would make interviewees appear robotic. But variants of the message help to reinforce it and increase its impact.
Certainly, the NFU felt “Say it. Mean it. Put it down in legislation” was worth repeating as it used it in its social media posts to promote the interview.
Did you miss NFU President @Minette_Batters on @BBCr4today setting out why MPs must "say it, mean it and put it down in legislation" to ensure British food production is not undermined in future trade deals? Catch up here from 54 mins 20 secs https://t.co/nsjLCE7m59 pic.twitter.com/MW2MWhz6Zk— National Farmers' Union (@NFUtweets) October 12, 2020
The other risk with not getting your key message across early on is that you may not get to it at all. Broadcast interviews are typically short and can come to an abrupt end.
This point about delivery aside, it was a good message that stood out during a busy news programme, even though the amendment the NFU backed was subsequently defeated in the House of Commons.
But what else can you do to make sure your message works and resonates?
Make it personal
In most cases, a key message needs to be supported by examples, otherwise, it will become little more than rhetoric.
And the most impactful examples are those which are personal to the interviewee.
Stories and anecdotes help to make the message relevant to the audience and bring it to life – people are naturally curious and want to hear stories about other people.
Let’s take it away from politics and Brexit negotiation and say, for example, you are launching a new product. One which aims to help elderly people live in their own homes for longer. A story about looking after an elderly relative in this situation and how this product could benefit them will help people to see and understand the benefits.
Additionally, personal stories have the added benefits of providing a human side to an organisation and can help spokespeople grow in confidence.
You’ll often hear people talk about the importance of ‘three key messages’ in interviews.
But we don’t agree. It’s too many. No matter how well you do in a media interview, the audience is unlikely to remember more than one major point you make.
The strongest messages are often those where the spokesperson is empowered and encouraged to put it in their words.
This can help to make them more believable, memorable and something that the spokesperson genuinely feels, rather than something they are just saying.
Once you are confident you have a good message, put it to the test.
Is it clear? Does it inspire? Is it emotionally engaging?
We believe that journalists, with their understanding of how different audiences work, are ideally placed to vigorously test and refine a message before it goes out to a wider audience.
This is something we are being increasingly asked by our clients to help with and we can test messages across a range of media interview formats and it can be done face-to-face or through videoconferencing. Find out more about our message development and testing courses here.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our message development and testing courses.
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