Lecture 5. Media communications: tips for success
I’m pleased to see you here, my dear friends! Let’s move on with our communication course. Last time we spoke about the basic elements of communication. Today, we will look at some useful rules and tips for communicating with the media environment.

Whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, but to deliver information about us to as many interested people as possible we need to turn to the media. How do we put our news or our comment, or simply information about our initiative onto the agenda of journalists? To answer this question, we need to ask first ‘what do journalists want? (except fame and money, of course). Journalists wants a good piece of news that would be interesting and/or useful for their audience. People in general read or watch the news to make their life better or easier, or have some fun at least. If we want reporters to take our piece of news we need to do as much of their work as possible. You may ask, why do we need to do that? Because press people are always under time pressure, they are always out of time. And they are always on the lookout for fresh and unusual news stories. So, let’s make their life easier.  

What information should we give to press people? Give them the information they can use to prepare a sound story. Give them facts or a piece of news, give them proof, guests, experts and background (that is, an explanation of the history of the problem and why it is important).

To start with, we need to understand the different media poles where news lives, i.e. what the news should be about to catch the attention a press person or an editor. We mentioned earlier that information shall be either useful or interesting and entertaining. If we opt for useful info, then the news will be something that relates to nearly each and every person who live in a given territory, happens here and now, and related to issues of everyday routine. For example, the government raised gas tariffs for households. This is related to all people and it’s a mainstream topic. This is important and useful information since every average citizen wants to know how his or her monthly spending will change. But the news also lives on the opposite pole. This is information about celebrities and outstanding or famous persons, or about something unusual and extraordinary, or about something that took place a long time ago and far away yet it deconstructs stereotypes today. For example, recently nearly all the global media were busy reporting about a train packed with Nazi treasure found in an abandoned tunnel in Poland. This information has nothing to do with our daily issues but it is unusual, relates to our past and deconstructs the stereotype that Nazi gold is lost.

You may like it or not, but the media uses the rule of several principles: Sensations, Laugh, Tears, Sex, and Scandal. The media uses our emotions rather than our reason. Emotional dressing is very important in the media. First of all, media is centered around human relations. And human contacts are primarily about emotions and not just pure facts. Secondly, let’s take, for example, a news editor, the work he or she does. He or she monitors tons of information, hundreds of news pieces from around the country and the globe. And he or she is just a regular human being. How does he or she decide what to pick out of all this flow, what should be the topic of a news story, and what should be included in a news bulletin? Pure facts, which also need to be thought and understood, are unlikely to catch an editor’s attention at first glance. So, if you emotionally pack your info into an emotional package, you are more likely to catch an editor’s eye.

The same rule works for interviews. No matter how much and how smart you are when talking about your subject, the journalist will not take your whole speech. He or she will have to take just some part of it. And he or she will rather prefer to take emotional and memorable words rather than some dull abstruse sentences. That is why during an interview or when giving comments, or answers at a press conference, the main idea will be stressed through colourful expressions. Like what, for example? Saying a joke or a funny saying, some outstanding quote from a book or a movie, or using a fancy metaphor, any figure of speech. All this will draw attention. And the journalist would prefer to include it in his or her text or programme than anything else from what you said. Also, remember, that only 20 seconds of your speech will be included in the news piece unless you are a President or a Prime Minister of the country. This is a technical regulation, audio or so-called sound bite. So, it is important to train and exercise to talk concisely and clearly using superphrases.

Another rule is to talk in plain language. Albert Einstein once said ‘Everything should be as simple as it can be but no simpler!’ When talking to media people we need to follow that rule. The main task for a journalist is to explain things to the audience. For that, he or she needs to make complicated things easy to understand. And we need to help them in that. Firstly, we need to avoid giving them loads of facts, figures, quotes, as well as various storylines. We need to figure out the key issue and develop it. The same rule works in advertising. If we have to promote a car, we shouldn’t talk simultaneously about its luxury, engine, elegance, environment-friendly features in one promotional video. Advertising experts would usually select one key feature and develop it into a full advertising plot. The same is relevant for information that we prepare for the media. We put forward one key idea and build evidence, illustrations, and examples around it. Secondly, excessively expert and specialist language will only alienate a journalist and the audience. We need to explain our key idea clearly, in words that are easy to understand. (Of course, that’s not the case if we talk about specialist professional publications and programmes). And one more piece of advice from the journalistic community. They say that the best way to explain complicated things to a broad audience is to imagine that you are talking to your grandmother trying to explain something. If you are actually an expert in your field, you can explain even to your grandmother things like what are the reasons for the world financial crisis and growth of populist political leaders and even Kantian transcendental apperception a priori. Never be afraid to look simple. A much bigger sin is to be boring and obscure.

Ignorant people usually give tons of facts and clog the flow of information. Since they don’t see the trees for the forest. If a person is competent in a particular sphere, he or she can structure his idea and highlight the most crucial in the topic. And this is what you need to give to journalists. Besides, if you are simple and clear in what you say, there is less chance that your words can be distorted. There is less chance that your words will be taken out of context and misquoted. And less chance that you will get into a situation where you will be screaming that you were misunderstood and meant something totally different.

And then let’s talk about being brief. We live in an era of huge flows of information. Huge long reads are a privilege for Pulitzer Prize winners or icons of world literature, or at least Nobel Prize winners in economics or physics. So, try to be brief and talk about the issue. And it’s possible. Yes, it requires some effort. But a short and brief text can both motivate and explain a complicated phenomenon. For example, one of the most famous speeches in world politics was the Gettysburg Address by the 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Just 10 sentences. 272 words. And less than 3 minutes. This speech totally changed the vision held by contemporaries of the Civil War. It removed the sorrow and brought pride for those killed in action.

So, let’s once again repeat the above-mentioned recommendations:

  • So as to be more efficient and successful in communicating through media we need, first and foremost, to help journalists to do their job — to give them all information ready to be used as a proper news story (a fact, evidence, participants, experts, and background);

  • Media news operates at two poles — the useful and the ordinary, the unique and novel; to get to the media, your information needs to be on one of these poles;

  • The Media uses emotions rather than reason: pack your information into emotional dressing and you will definitely draw the editor’s attention;

  • Practice using superphrases in the talks you give: clear, vivid, emotional sentences of 20 seconds; for that, use metaphors, quotes, and jokes;

  • Do not neglect simple and brief wording, this will be popular with an audience.

And finally, there is no room for fear in communication. Never be afraid to cross the line. Think out of the box. Be fearless and walk on thin ice. This is the only way to deliver your message to your audience. And be continually mixing up the ingredients. Like a chef does. Serve up something new and delicious, fusion cuisine.

Bon voyage!

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