Like most “older” PR professionals, I was raised in the command-and-control era of communications.
I remember my first experience observing the senior guys conducting media training for a client. It was all about pummeling the spokesperson into submission to stay on message.
While the trainers were having fun – the PR version of running a torture chamber – it seemed to me that such a process might generate a robotic narrative.
An experience supporting Philips and its CD-ROM business in 1986 forever changed my perspective.
In preparation for a slew of media interviews scheduled for Philips, I walked the VP of marketing, Rob Moes, through the messages and how he should answer anticipated questions. That was what I was trained to do.
The first interview unfolded according to plan.
The second interview found the reporter getting more and more agitated as Rob parroted back the party line. The reporter repeatedly pressed for market projections, which frustrated Rob to the point that he finally blurted out, “Trying to figure out the number of units that will ship in the future is like asking Mrs. Magellan how many lunches to pack. Who the hell knows?”
Needless to say, this answer wasn’t one of the key messages.
The response completely altered the dynamic of the interview.
Rob essentially shucked the script and had a conversation with the reporter, answering the questions in his own words with anecdotes pulled from personal experiences.
Observing the exchange, I couldn’t believe the difference between pre-outburst and post-outburst.
Stories trump corporate drivel.
Why were we pummeling executives into submission to stay on message?
Instead, we should be helping our clients apply storytelling techniques in their communications.
That was my “aha! moment.”