Don’t “Message” Me

Remember the time when the standard response to any media question was to repeat essentially the same line over and over again?

I certainly do – I spent several years working in government communications, where Q&As essentially parroted the same answer back (yes, “parrot” is a verb for the duration of this post), largely regardless of the question.

It irritated me at the time and seeing it now annoys me even more.

Nowadays, more and more people are realizing that, especially on TV, repeating the same thing doesn’t make you look smart or informed. It makes you look rude and disconnected. Yes, you may get that soundbite, but if you’re live on air, you’re more likely to look like a tool.

The same thing goes for online outreach. Throwing out company messages and stilted corporate wording simply doesn’t work. Social media is all about people. If you can’t be a person, don’t expect people to react well to you.

This doesn’t mean you should just go around damaging your company’s brand by spouting-off about everything. Choose where you engage, address the issue in question and answer questions thoughtfully, while advocating your point of view as best you can. It also doesn’t mean you should go into interviews or onto websites unprepared for questions, but that preparation might be better as a series of general bullets around which you can frame your answers, rather than speaking points you regurjitate verbatim.

Don’t “message” people; talk to them.

What do you think?

19 Responses toDon’t “Message” Me

  • Great post and I couldn’t agree more.

    Consumers, as a whole, are a savvy bunch, and getting tired of the “old tricks.” And, with social media, you’ve got people experiencing great value with relationships that provide information tailored to the way people want to get it. It’s time communicators (advertisers, PR pros, marketers) apply the same strategy across all mediums. Find your target audience, tell them something they don’t already know, and do it in a way that they will find meaningful.

  • So simply stated, yet so true. Thanks for the post and the cool read.


  • patrice cloutier
    ago12 years

    Hey Dave … the issue is the delivery of your key messages … yeah, a robotic approach won’t do anymore …

    but you still need to stick with what you’ve go … the solutions is to find newer, more engaging way of delivering your key messages …

    show empathy, compassion and the whole bit

    particularly in a crisis situation …

    we keep working on that here

  • Great post! I was a sales rep for a long time myself in a brick and mortar world. I considered myself to be a good one and that is why I hated when somebody was trying to sell me without putting any real effort into it or respecting my time and opinion.

    When everything moved online I figured that the exact same principle applies over here: as your article mentions be a real person – and that would ultimately lead you to long term relationship and sales success, even though it might take you in the beginning longer than just sending a mass email to everybody the payoff will be better as well.

  • Couldn’t agree more, Dave. Why even bother to engage if you intend to regurgitate rather than to converse? As social beings, we all have the capacity to think for ourselves and to thoughtfully engage in a situation with an appropriate response. It astounds me that organisations continue to ‘encourage’ their employees to go against this basic logic.

    As you suggest though, this trend does seem to be on the turn. Employees are increasingly being given more opportunities to represent their organisation through the social media. By imposing logical rules of engagement similar to those which might be imposed against offline interactions; for example, concerning the use of profanities and trade secrets, employees are being empowered to openly represent their organisation online. This is most definately a step in the right direction.


  • I think it depends on the spokesperson. I’m reminded of a story that I actually wrote a blog post on back in August ’07–there was a coal mine disaster, and they put the owner of the mine in front of the camera to take reporter’s questions. It was hands-down the most bizarre press conference I’d ever watched. The owner was all over the place: talking about the mine workers’ union, global warming, seismic activity, etc. Oh, and yes, he did talk about the missing miners too.

    It would have been better for his own cause had he stayed “on message” and got his point across. Not everyone can be thrown in front of the camera or microphone, etc., and be articulate and thoughtful, particularly when under stress as the mine owner quite clearly was.

    Media training for situations like that one is essential. No, I don’t want people to sound like robots and continually dish out the same answer no matter what the question is.

    Online is different. You are responding with the written word (most often) so take the time to not sound like a corporate brochure.

    Another great post Dave!


  • Jen, I completely agree. I remember the coal mine incident – the spokesperson was a train wreck. However, sticking to his points doesn’t have to mean repeating verbatim – he could have been well prepared to talk to the key issues while still being flexible in how he approached them.

  • You’ve nailed it Dave. We’ve talked about this on Inside PR a few times now. This idea has become central to our media training. No canned messages. We definitely want spokespersons to get their message across. But you do that by telling stories, using examples, coming at it from different angles. Just don’t regurgitate the same tired message verbatim. While you rewind the key message track in your head and hit PLAY again, the viewer/listener is changing the station. Don’t do it.

  • Wow, we were on the same wavelength yesterday (funny how that happens!). I guest posted on a similar topic on Communication Overtones (, and I completely agree with you that the stilted, repetitive nature of traditional messaging comes off as obnoxious these days. Today’s messages have to be flexible guidelines,

  • Very nice post, and I couldn’t agree with you more. However, I also can’t stress strongly enough how important it is for clients to get themselves media trained. I keep seeing people say yes to interviews and then come away from the experience saying, “I had no idea I looked so old/fat/angry/sloppy/goofy.” Or, “But I never got a chance to talk about our new product/service….”

    Working out what you need to communicate in a media interview is no different than anticipating the questions you’ll encounter at a job interview. Including the answer to ‘what’s your greatest weakeness?’ 😉

  • PR Dave
    ago12 years

    I think the question you are actually asking is why is Parrot Media Training Inc so successful? Clearly its because our message and image enhancement solutions are both effective and trusted as can be seen by our leading edge work with Mr Personality Bypass, leader of the Zombie party. Let me answer like this, our effective message enhancement solutions, as used by the Zombie party, have never been more trusted – that’s why we are so successful in image enhancement. As Mr Personality Bypass remarked in the House just the other day, no other Party is so trusted, or so enhanced, or has as many solutions, in its image. Looking at it another way, if you have an enhanced image, you are bound to be effective, and trusted, and have solutions. Can I add just three things for the benefit of your listeners? First, Parrot Media Training has solutions. Second, Parrot Media Training has an image. And finally, if you want and image, if you want solutions, if you want to be effective – give Parrot Media Training a try.

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