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Three lessons ingredients companies can learn from politicians

Steve Harman, Account Director, Ingredient Communications

Want to improve the way you communicate about your product? You could do worse than pay close attention next time you see a politician on TV.

That’s one of the pieces of advice we give at our regular media training sessions for ingredients companies. It’s one that sometimes raises eyebrows, but the fact is that many of the principles of good media interviews – and good communication generally – are just as relevant to marketing professionals as they are to political party hacks.

Politicians are never going to be the most popular sector of society (in the UK, they’re regularly found to be the least trusted profession). But they are professional communicators and the good ones can give you a masterclass in selling a message.

So, drawing on some of my past experiences as a PR professional in Westminster, as well as helping ingredients companies here at IC, here are three lessons you can learn from politicians.

1) Preparation, preparation, preparation

When I worked for an MP, some of my busiest weeks were the ones before a big TV appearance like BBC Question Time. I spent days thinking of every possible question she could be asked and suggesting ways she might answer. It was gruelling, but the time and energy invested in preparation helped her give some dazzling performances.

By contrast, when things go badly, it’s almost always because of a lack of preparation – a failure to anticipate difficult questions, or to be on top of the facts. If you can bear it, here’s an example of a particularly painful car crash.

Ok, so if you’re being interviewed by a trade publication, you’re unlikely to reach an audience of BBC proportions, but the principle of “be prepared” is still very relevant. Think about all the questions you might be asked, decide on answers, and rehearse them. And never believe you can just “wing it”.

2) Stick to your message, even when you’re sick of it

Alastair Campbell, formerly Tony Blair’s spokesperson, once said that it’s only when you’re sick of hearing a message that you can be sure it’s getting through. When you agree to an interview, you need to know exactly what your message is (maybe a key selling point of your product, maybe a point about consumer trends) and not be shy about repeating it.

A really good media performer will use ‘bridging answers’, which allow them to steer the conversation away from uncomfortable territory and back on to their key message. Common examples are phrases like: “Well I haven’t seen that particular research, but what I do think is important is…” or “That’s a good point, and it just shows how important it is to…”.

By using such techniques, you’re not necessarily avoiding the question, you’re making sure you give answers that include your key points. The ideal interview is one where the journalist gets his or her story, and you get your message across. Win win.

3) Understand the value of PR

Over the past two decades, politicians have been criticised for being more interested in media “spin” than getting the job done. But that doesn’t mean they’re vain, it means they understand the value and importance of PR. Every interview is an opportunity to get your message across to your key audience (whether that’s voters or potential customers) without paying for it.

So the next time that slick government minister pops up on your screen, don’t switch off – watch and learn.

To find out more about Ingredient Communication’s Media Training Courses, contact: [email protected]