By Jennigay Coetzer

Publishable articles needs to contain rich content that will capture and retain the interest of the target audience. The spokespeople journalists interview to obtain this content therefore need to be equipped with rich knowledge of the topic being discussed, from the audience’s viewpoint, and not just a few superficial, disjointed bits of information.

Spokespeople who lack knowledge end up waffling and regurgitating clichés, marketing speak and industry jargon and bits of information they have picked up without exploring the whys and wherefores behind them.

Many spokespeople have not been trained to interact with the media and are so bound up in their day-to-day work that they have tunnel vision and cannot view the products and services they sell in the context of the market as a whole. These people have superficial viewpoints and find it difficult to discuss any topic at hand from the audience’s perspective. What they have to say will therefore always be introspective and lack substance.

During the media training sessions I run, I find that even those spokespeople that have been interviewed by journalists many times are amazed at how much they learn. They realise how many mistakes they have been making, including those mentioned here, because they have not been trained properly to interact with the media.

Continually gathering local and global industry and market knowledge should not mean being exposed to information overload by reading everything.

Spokespeople can achieve this by being alert to what is going on in the markets in which they operate, gathering market intelligence by talking to their customers, and regularly scanning relevant information gathered from carefully selected knowledge sources. This will enable them to constantly refresh their knowledge base.

Good spokespeople will also explore the topics on which they are expecting to be interviewed to get a deeper understanding of the implications of the market trends and the factors that are influencing them.

Those who are not prepared to do this are putting their companies at risk when communicating with the media because of their lack of knowledge. This is equally so when spokespeople are quoted in press releases and other articles that are merely being posted on a company website.

Spokesperson will also need to be equipped with the knowledge to answer any questions that might be asked by journalists following up on a press release.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist and has run more than 100 media training workshops and coaching sessions. She also runs article writing workshops. An electronic version of her book, A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guideline to writing press releases, can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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