Bernard O'Riordan, Media Trainer
Often the very first question I ask when interviewing someone is: “Tell me about your role. What is it you do?”
If past experience is any guide, it’s one of the hardest questions business professionals can get in a media interview, probably because they’ve never had to explain their job to anyone before or because they assumed their job title spoke for itself.
Whatever the case, they're just not prepared for such a straightforward question.
But job titles these days mean very little and reporters can’t really get a feel for what a person does based on a job title alone.
That’s why you need to be able to explain in just a few short sentences – usually just a quick 10 second grab - what it is you or your company does and what your area of responsibility is.
It’s called an elevator pitch: a concise, carefully planned and well-practiced message about your role or your company that takes less time to say than it would to ride an elevator or lift between floors.
A reporter just needs to know what your focus is - the type of clients you work with and the sorts of issues you deal with – so that they’re on the same page.
It gives them a better understanding of the types of questions to ask and the issues to explore when they understand what your role actually involves.
Without this simple understanding, a media interview can easily go off the rails and explore issues or subjects that have nothing to do with your role, and that can be dangerous.
Your elevator pitch needs to be brief so that you don’t lose the reporter’s attention, but not so short that they have to ask follow up questions to fully understand your role.
It could be as simple as something like this:
“I’m a partner in the Advisory Services business and we work with most of the big banks and insurers on issues like tax and major transactions. We help financial services clients manage uncertainties and opportunities in their business."
Now that's not perfect and it might sound dull, but it doesn’t have to be rocket science. As long as you are painting a simple picture of what you do, a reporter will feel that their question has been answered.
Alternatively, your pitch might include intriguing details about your business, paving the way for questions and a broader conversation.
One of the most memorable job descriptions I’ve heard came from Leigh Berrell, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Yarra Valley Water.
He described his role as CIO as being an “Information Sherpa”, guiding the organisation up a mountain. A Sherpa, he said, “knows how to climb, and understands the landscape.”
As someone who pays attention to the power of how information is framed, I’ve learnt to appreciate the impact of a good analogy.
Analogies - along with metaphors, anecdotes and other visual linguistic tools - allow you to tell a story, capture the imagination or ignite a response that can't be achieved with facts and figures alone.
Similarly, I remember interviewing the boss of a company that recycles air and he described his company this way: “We're like the people who collect your old newspapers or plastic bottles – our job is to recycle your air.”
Now these two descriptions might not provide a complete description, but they are colourful and interesting and almost certain to intrigue a journalist.
They also turn a complex idea into something tangible, opening the door for a much bigger conversation about what the company does.
Snappy descriptions are useful because they pack a lot of information into just a couple of words. Without getting bogged down in boring specifics or technicalities, they tell the reporter something about your organisation, what you stand for and why it’s important.
Even though you know your business at its deepest level, summing up all that in just a couple of words – or a “Twitter friendly headline” - can be incredibly difficult.
But remember, no business ever failed because it was too clear or straightforward about what it stands for.
So before you even start planning your strategic messaging for a media interview, be sure you can nail your elevator pitch.
Start by asking yourself some simple questions and explain it like you are talking to a 14-year-old who knows nothing about what you do.
Try to capture the essence of the five points below in just one or two sentences:
It's important to remember that reporters will have their antennae tuned to see if you talk about specific clients. Often it's best to avoid naming specific clients because the story might become all about them and their issues, rather than you and your organisation.
Remember also to avoid corporate jargon and technical terms and abbreviations when describing who you are or what you do.
For example, a reporter will tune out real fast if you call yourself “a front line customer support facilitator”. Say it like it is. You work in a call centre.
If you can explain in simple terms what you do, the types of clients you work with and the solutions you provide, then you will already have shown a reporter you are newsworthy and worth talking to.