By Jennigay Coetzer

Companies appoint spokespeople to interact with the media to build brand awareness and image, get their marketing messages across, keep the market up to date with what they are doing and how successful they are, attract new business, and encouraging customers to buy more of their products and services.

But journalists and other media interviewers have a different agenda. They are looking for information that will interest and enlighten their readers, listeners or viewers, keep them up to date with the latest news and trends and keep them coming back for more.

It is important for company spokespeople to understand these conflicting agendas, and media training will help them to do this.

Journalists are not interested in how much money your company is making or how good its products and services are, except when this information is of interest to their audience – for example when they are reporting on a listed company’s results or a new company listing.

They know their readers are looking for information that will keep them up to date with what is going on locally and globally that could affect their lifestyle or business interests, the economy, the political environment or the markets in which they operate.

Spokespeople therefore need to understand and identify with what the audience would be interested in hearing as opposed to focusing solely on what they want to tell them, when preparing for a media interview.

In essence, the media interviewer is a conduit between the spokesperson and the audience. So during an interview the spokesperson needs to imagine he or she is speaking directly to the lowest common denominator of the audience.

For example, I have a technology background, but I write articles about IT and telecommunication for a business audience. The spokespeople I interact with therefore need to speak in layman’s terms. It is not up to me to interpret their industry jargon and gobbledegook into the language my readers will understand.

When I write articles, I am looking for interesting views from spokespeople who are prepared to share knowledge and ideas that will enlighten my readers and enable them to use the information to make better decisions.

Even when discussing a new concept, product or service, readers, listeners and viewers will want answers to questions such as who it is targeted at, how it will benefit them, how it works, where it can be obtained and when? How it fits into the bigger picture of the market, whether this marks a trend, and so on. In other words, what’s in it for them to absorb this information?

This will require getting onto the audience’s wavelength as opposed to expecting them to get onto yours, which many spokespeople make the mistake of doing.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She  has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or at: jennigay@icon.co.za.

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