As communicators, we all know message discipline is important. But look no further than Marco Rubio’s recent debate performance as Exhibit A for how too much message discipline can get robotic. (Another great example from the archives is Vice President Al Gore’s 1997 “no controlling legal authority” messaging lockdown). “Loosen up,” the media coaches will tell you. But don’t mistake that for blanket advice: Let’s see how “people skills” can also get you into trouble, especially when you interact with the news media.
Journalists are masters at being personable and getting you to feel likewise, so it’s easy to forget how an exchange with the media is always a business interaction. There’s a boatload of research – from cognitive neuroscience, linguistics, sociobiology and other fields – explaining why it’s so tempting to go off message and hold nothing back when we’re in a friendly interaction with someone else. But as this PIO360 training clip explains, when it comes to media: friendly interactions ≠ friendship!
The lesson: Keep your people skills intact, but not so much that you have a tell-all disposition. And don’t go to the opposite extreme, where you’re so disciplined on messaging that you come off as robotic. Striking the right balance is the secret sauce for being a good spokesperson and a big priority in PIO360’s own Communications Ecosystem messaging framework.
This is not a blog about the ethics of your message; if you’re a communicator, I hope you’re telling the truth and serving the greater good. The point is that the best way to convey the message is to perfect that alchemy of discipline and approachability in what you say and how you say it.
-Richard Sheehe Click Here to subscribe to the PIO360 blog.
Richard Sheehe is an expert on strategic communications and crisis management. A former NBC national broadcast news anchor/correspondent and university/non-profit PR executive, he is now a public relations consultant and a Senior Research Fellow in communications at George Mason University. He founded PIO360.com as an evidence-based PR training and strategy initiative, blending practitioner insights with deeper research understandings into how people interpret and respond to communications outreach and messaging.