You’re telling me too much

I once media trained a company and started by asking them what the company did (I always do my homework but wanted to see how they’d handle it in their own words). They paused and started with “well, that’s a difficult question…” and took me on a verbal tour of the business’ history.

This is never, ever a good idea. First because anyone who can’t tell me what their business is or does goes down in my book as “well-intentioned but an over-thinker”. Second because the damned question was only my way of clearing my throat before an interview in the first place. If I need to know what your company does I’ll look at the website, you’ve put it there to help me and it’s appreciated.

If I’m talking to you in an interview then I’m mostly looking for quotes. And those quotes will need to be relatively brief.

Background

I’m a journalist, I get a lot of people approaching me. Let’s guess that I receive around 60 press releases a day and that more than a few of them are well-targeted.

So even before I speak to you or your client I’m sifting in my head, working out what’s relevant and helpful, what may be useful in passing and what’s frankly ridiculous (if the people who send me a daily press release on marital infidelity are reading, I’ll leave you to guess which category is yours). Logically I’m going to need simplicity from you because my brain is only going to cope with so much.

So, before you talk to me or any of my colleagues you really need a couple of things straight, and “what you do for a living” is among them. You could even pretend I have a narrow attention span (journalists tend to) so you need to avoid dwelling on the dull stuff I can find out elsewhere and move to the bits that only you can give me, pronto.

Complexity

The biggest problems of this nature happen when someone works in a large, complex organisation. The temptation is to try to tell me that you do a bit of IT outsourcing, you operate a telecoms division and also supply domestic Internet and phone but you’re there to speak about cloud technology on that particular day.

True though all this is, I’d rather hear the cloud bit first and then offer to put me in touch with other people if I want the full corporate picture. This has two beneficial effects other than the simple “getting to the point is better” effect. First, I’m less likely to make a mistake and attribute the wrong bit of your company to you (it happens on tight deadlines).

Second, even more fatally, it means I won’t find another part of your organisation more interesting than yours and start asking about that instead. On a couple of occasions I’ve had someone accidentally tell me a much more interesting story than the one about which they were hoping I’d write and they’re very disappointed when I won’t go back to the dull one.

Of course I won’t. I’m accountable to my editor and serving my readers. So keep it simple – even if it’s complex, just tell me the bits I need whilst making it clear there’s a bigger picture in the background – keep it clear and keep on topic.

Details of Guy Clapperton’s media training courses are available by clicking here.

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