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Great Media Quotes

Great media quotes are often carefully crafted and designed to catch the headlines – but not always.

The MD of The Media Coach, Lindsay Williams, likes to remind her clients that speaking at the top of the ‘Language Ladder’, as she calls it, won’t get you quoted in the press and might actually lead to distrust. Whereas speaking at the bottom of the ladder – in simple colloquial language – has the opposite effect.

Great media quotes take a local story international

I was reminded of this in a story that started as local news and eventually received international attention. You may remember the Market Deeping Model Railway Club who had their exhibition at Stamford in Lincolnshire, vandalised a few weeks ago. The story first appeared on Twitter, quickly spread to the local paper (Stamford Mercury) and then within a few hours it hit the BBC, Guardian and Daily Mail websites. An online crowdfunding appeal was also launched.

Great media quotes

I think the story spread so quickly for two reasons – photographs and good quotes. There were a couple of pictures showing what looked like a tornado had torn through the school hall leaving once detailed layouts, model stations and engines smashed into matchwood. Without these pictures, I doubt the story would have spread as quickly as it did. But the thing that really made this story stick for me was the quotes from the model railway club members.

Great media quotes: metaphor, alliteration and emotion

These were people with no PR advice and probably no knowledge of the importance of having a couple of clear, thought through messages to hand. The club chairman Peter Davies spoke from the heart when he said, “We are devastated and distraught. Can you imagine your life’s work wrecked? They left it like a bomb site”.

He continued, “I have never experienced anything like it, a hurricane would have done less damage”.

Finally, talking of the loss of years of effort in making detailed model trains he said, “There were grown men with tears in their eyes because of what had been done, and I was one of them.”

The directness of the language, the constant use of the first person ‘I’ and the colourful use of what we would call picture words such as: ‘bomb site’ and ‘hurricane’ all made for quotes that would be repeated again and again across many news channels. There was even a bit of alliteration with ‘devastated and distraught’. All of this came from a man who did not have experience in crafting quotes but instead found himself speaking from the heart at a time of great stress. The lesson here is not to overcomplicate our quotes but simply to try getting the colour and grit of straightforward language into our messages. It really does hit home with just about any audience and we should all think about using it more often.

In this case, the extensive media coverage led to a happy ending: so far more than a £100,000 has been donated to the club by well-wishers.

 

Blue passport

The blue passport and the power of the tangible

The blue passport has been called an icon of British Identity. And we are going to hear a lot more about that icon in the coming weeks.

The blue passport: why all the fuss?

The blue passport was discontinued in 1988, although given the lifetime of passports there were probably a few around for 20 years after that. But this does mean roughly 20 million of the 65 million population of the UK have never seen a real UK blue passport. However, it is clearly viewed with affection by many amongst the older generations. As you are almost certainly aware, blue passports are due to be reintroduced – or an updated version will be introduced – in 2019 when Britain leaves the EU.

Blue passport

The controversy comes because the contract to print these new passports is about to be awarded to a Franco-Dutch company Gemalto. The specialist British printing firm De La Rue (an ironically French name) which, it seems, lost out in the tender process, has very unusually taken the view that this is a decision worth fighting and in public.

The legal case to have it printed in the UK and not in Europe is going to get a great deal of coverage. There are lots of reasons for this. One is clearly that the dispute neatly encapsulates the pro/anti EU argument in a simple way. But another key factor is that the blue passport itself is tangible. By which I mean you can picture it. And that is a key reason why this will run and run.

The power of the tangible

Tangibility helps people, all people, engage with this argument much more easily than with the arguments about other important elements of the Brexit process such as possible tariffs on financial services.

You can picture the passport in your mind in the way you can picture a pot of money, a bridge, or a car but you can’t picture a pension, infrastructure or the automotive industry. Being able to picture something makes it easier to grasp and easier to remember.

This is not the first time the controversies of the EU has been reduced to something we can picture. Myths about a threat to straight bananas, British sausages and a proposed ban on the word ‘yoghurt’ all became symbols of exasperation with the EU and in all cases it was a myth but the arguments live on. The BBC among others did an expose of this in 2007.

The take away: find something tangible

If you are communicating to external or other non-specialist audiences, including tangible items – examples you can picture – is a very simple way to make an argument more memorable or sticky.

Blue passportBlue passportIn a recent training my colleague Catherine Cross compared a description of a company that was doing the rounds on LinkedIn with a quote about engineering from former BP CEO Lord Browne. Both are attempting to explain a professional concept. But we think Lord Browne wins hands down because he gives examples that people can visualise and this is much more powerful than a lot of conceptual words.

Professional cerebral people are often deeply reluctant to add these tangible words to their prepared arguments because they think it makes them look stupid or they think it’s irrelevant and unnecessary. We think tangible elements are hugely valuable in any argument and should be shoe-horned in at any opportunity.

Create a picture in people’s minds and your argument is more likely to be remembered.

The Media Coach is constantly involved in helping companies and organisations create ‘sticky’ messages. If your organisation needs help with please do give us a call on 020 70992212.

For a previous blog on the key elements of prepared messages see our earlier blog: 8 tips for professional communicators. 

 

 

Blue passport photo used under Creative Comms licence.

 

hypocrisy of Blair

The hypocrisy of Blair: PR lessons from a reviled politician

‘The hypocrisy of Blair’ was the headline in The Sun on Monday this week, giving readers their weekly dose of outrage. Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor and now a columnist, wrote a stinging and vitriolic condemnation of the former Prime Minister for daring to suggest that there were ways to control immigration that might satisfy those who voted to leave the EU – and therefore mean Britain didn’t have to leave after all.

hypocrisy of Blair

Outrage

Tony Blair suggests much stricter immigration controls for EU citizens to satisfy angry UK voters: “Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it,” he explains. If he had sold his own children into the sex trade it’s difficult to imagine more personal and outraged coverage in some areas of the media. For example this story from the Express. 

hypocrisy of BlairBlair appears to have grown a Teflon skin, which may be why he is such a strange colour. Defending him is a mug’s game so I am not going to waste my words, although I still think he is one of the most brilliant communicators of his generation, if not of his century.

hypocrisy of Blair

Tony Blair: defending him is a mug’s game but he is still a brilliant communicator.

But it does, once again, throw the spotlight on whether it is ever possible to change your mind in public – over a major issue – and not get completely ridiculed. It seems there is, in the somewhat skewed moral code of journalists, no bigger crime than to change your mind. This is, of course, irrational on many levels and was tackled in the last century in a quote attributed to economist John Maynard Keynes :

‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’

Flip-flops and U-turns

I have written about this before two years ago (click here if you are interested) but the moral of the story is clear: you do not want to make public U-turns or flip-flops lightly because journalists will be likely to put it in a headline and suggest you are losing face, incompetent or an idiot.

If you do need to do it, it needs careful planning, crafted arguments or messages and robust answers to the obvious question of: ‘why have you changed your mind’, and ‘how often you have been wrong before’ etc. Blair, of course, had all these ready for his interviews on Sunday – plus a dose of humility, which is a good side dish in these circumstances. If you can get past any personal animosity to him, this interview on Andrew Marr on Sunday (available only until 19th October) is a good watch. No question is ever ignored but the prepared messages are always also inserted in such a way that you can’t spot the join. There is lots of careful phrasing and the usual rationale and inclusive tone. In its way it is a masterpiece.

If you need help messaging some difficult announcement, or just want to rehearse, the Media Coach team stand ready to help!

Photo of Tony Blair used under creative commons licence.

 

 

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Mugwumps stole a lot of headlines last week.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, wrote a piece for The Sun in which he suggested that people may think Jeremy Corbyn (leader of the opposition Labour Party) was a ‘mutton-headed old mugwump’ and feel sorry for him but in fact he poses an enormous threat to our country if he gets into Number 10 Downing Street.

Mugwumps steal news headlines

You may think this is just Boris being Boris, colourful language is what he does and not much else: more buffoonery than strategy.

Mugwumps dominated news agenda

Well, I beg to differ. Boris dominated the news agenda for a full day with the mugwump insult. It was a day in which he was on numerous media outlets – saying all sorts of things, some of them controversial, but no one was interested in anything but mugwumps. During that day we were all reminded perhaps a thousand times – at least if you are a news junky– that Corbyn could be characterised as a ‘mugwump’ and by implication a rather soft and muddled individual unfit to run the country. This is way more coverage and way more effective than Conservative leader and Prime Minister Theresa May’s more sensible mantra of ‘strong and stable leadership’.

Mugwumps steal news headlines

Corbyn’s response to Mugwump insult: ‘We are eight days into the election and Boris Johnson has run out of serious arguments ….I don’t do name calling’.

My personal theory is that Boris used to say stupid things by accident but in doing so learnt the power of a colourful phrase. Now he ‘weaponises language’ with deadly effect. The Telegraph helpfully collected some of the great Boris quotes many of which I suspect were less crafted and planned than the mugwump insult.

Mugwumps: an example of weaponising langauge

The ‘mugwump’ insult was a focus for a set piece 8:10 interview on BBC Radio 4 Today programme where it was helpfully repeated for those chattering classes that do not stoop to read The Sun newspaper. The story then led the BBC’s political coverage for most of the day.

Mugwumps: a raft of ‘explainers’

The press for two days was then full of ‘mugwump explainers’. Here are a few.

The Metro headline was: “Mugwump is actually a word and this is what it means”

The Guardian headline was:  What is a mugwump? An insult that only Boris Johnson would use. This also includes a snappy little video with the history of the word.

The Times – behind a paywall – sorry – but headline: “This mugwump is a dandiprat”

Birmingham Mail headline: what is a mugwump? This university professor has the answer

And there are many more.

Boris used ‘mugwump’ to create acres of coverage for what the Conservatives believe is their most important differentiator in the election; comparing the leadership style of Jeremy Corbyn to the strong, sensible, mainstream style of Theresa May.

Mugwumps and Media Trainers

All of our trainers work to help clients with their messages. We try to help them with carefully crafted quotable phrases that will sum up an argument in a way that gets headlines (even if only in the trade press). Serious people constantly and consistently shy away from saying anything ‘too racy’ or anything that makes them appear ‘unprofessional’ or ‘not serious enough’. We understand. But we do not believe those people always understand the ‘opportunity-cost’. 

Just in case you haven’t caught on, we at The Media Coach call prepared quotable language ‘sizzle’ and we blog and tweet about this regularly – you can follow the twitter handle @mediasizzle if you want to see the world the way we see it. If you want us to help you build quotable messages then give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Jeremy Corbyn image used under Flickr creative comms

 

 

Media Training basics: don’t shoot the messenger

Media training basics include understanding that interviews with journalists are an opportunity rather than a threat.

Sure, there are potential pitfalls and problems that you might encounter in the course of the conversation, but the key point to realise is that you have been selected as an opinion leader, with a chance to influence what others think.

With this in mind, it would be madness to criticise the very broadcaster that is providing you with the interview opportunity. Nevertheless, a surprising number of interviewees seem to forget or ignore this and waste time shooting the messenger.

Media Training basics: case study

Media Training Basics Don't Shoot the Messenger

Peter Bone MP used an interview on BBC Radio 4 PM programme to criticise the ‘pro-EU’ stance of the BBC

Take Peter Bone, for example – a politician since 1977 and an MP since 2005. The Conservative member for Wellingborough is a prominent Eurosceptic and has been through countless interactions with the media. He was invited onto a recent edition of Radio 4’s PM programme to discuss comments made by Brexit secretary David Davis that day, suggesting the government was not ruling out paying into the Brussels budget in exchange for access to the single market.

Presenter Eddie Mair asked Mr Bone what he thought of what had been said – a gentle, easy opening question that should have provided him with an opportunity to say almost anything he liked on the subject.

Media Training basics: why waste easy questions?

But within his first answer, Mr Bone had dismissed the story as people “clutching at straws” who were “desperate for any news”. This is never a good tactic. Journalists hate being told what constitutes a story – and from the listeners’ point of view, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone agreeing to be interviewed believes there is something to talk about.

Then when Eddie Mair pushed him a little harder (“forgive us for listening to what government ministers say and trying to interpret them on behalf of the listeners”), Mr Bone responded, “It is the BBC, of course, and I know you’re terribly, terribly pro-EU.”

Suddenly the debate switched from discussing access to the EU single market to the manner in which the BBC was covering the issue:

Peter Bone:  “There you see – there we go again: BBC – pro-EU hat on, you just can’t see reality…”

Eddie Mair:   “Is it easier to bash the BBC than to deal with the question?”

Peter Bone:  “I don’t have to bash the BBC because it’s unmitigating (sic) pro-EU…. I mean, it’s just the way you start these reports…”

Eddie Mair:   “Have you seen reports in The Telegraph posing the same questions?”

You can hear the interview here until the end of December 2016.

Listeners on both sides of the debate will resent this approach – especially as the only other interviewee on the subject was fellow-Brexiteer Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the free-market think tank The Institute of Economic Affairs. What’s more, soundbites introducing the article had come from Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Nigel Farage, David Davis and Ian Duncan Smith – not a Remainer in sight.

Bone should have known better and kept his powder dry. When landing a key message should be your strategic purpose, it’s a waste of ammunition to target the media instead. Doing so frustrates interviewers who spend time dodging the bullets, and alienates the audience who are left wondering what the battle was all about.

Expecting a radio interview opportunity to come up in the near future? I and the team of trainers at The Media Coach have years of broadcast news experience; we can prepare you for a radio or TV interview and ensure you avoid making such basic mistakes.

Photos used under creative comms licence