Over 37 years of producing and conducting TV and radio and multimedia interviews with executives, politicians, warlords and men and women on the street I rarely believe anything I hear these days, and certainly I believe less than I once did.
Why? Because politicians and executives have been so over-coached and practiced to be sure they say nothing that will be used against them later… it is the equivalent of a hijacked Miranda warning. Say nothing and nothing bad will happen to you. For people on the street they are so ready to tell you whatever you want to hear in exchange that you’ll choose their mutterings for the story prompting them to call their friends to watch or listen.
I have been critical of corporate messaging for a long time. Let me tell you why… when conducting corporate interviews it has become standard practice for their handlers to ask what the interview will be about? If you’re working for a corporate client, you’ll be asked to participate in a “grounding call” that will last about an hour several weeks before the scheduled interview. About 2 weeks before the interview you’ll be invited to another hour plus “briefing call” which becomes the framework for a briefing document for the executive. It will be a pulp intensive document of multiple pages with probably 4 or 5 bullet points for each of the anticipated questions, often with a paragraph of more of embellishments for each bullet point. For an interview of perhaps 20 questions this means that the sycophants who perform the role of communication managers will spend hours drafting up to 120 specific bullet points with hundreds of additional words to manage key suggestions for the executive’s conversation.
The funny thing is that by the time these briefing documents are prepared and delivered to the executive, often on the night before the scheduled interview, it’s frequently too late. Countless times executives have come to the interview and asked me, “What are we talking about today?” I always enjoy the question, as I perversely enjoy watching the blood drain from the face of the handlers simultaneously.
It’s a strange thing. These executives are at the top of the corporate food pyramid. They know their stuff – they have spoken the words before. In many cases, they wrote the words. By preparing the bullets, by over manipulating the executive, his or her handlers have frequently squeezed out any remaining drop of authenticity… the conversation sounds as canned and corny, as insincere and ineffective as imaginable.
Years ago the average length of a sound bite (quote) on the network evening news was :22. Today I hear that’s dropped to just :08 seconds. Is that because reporters are so enamored of their own voices that they insist on shorter sound bites? Perhaps in part. Is it because news makers have less to say than ever before? I don’t think so. Is it then a matter that people don’t say their stories or share their expertise as well as they used to… or we’re burned out hearing the same old stuff again and again… perhaps that has some bearing too.
Here’s the bottom line… why don’t you believe politicians? Why don’t you respond to executives and others representing their issues?
Comment, email me. I am at a loss. What I do know is that you, me, we – the audience generally – is not hearing messages that we believe, that we trust, that we are willing to value… so why not? What’s failing and why?
I’d like to understand this better.