Is Your Tone Killing Your PR Campaign?

Sometimes It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

My Senior Campaign Strategist has been speaking for years to groups on the topic of “Tone and Content” as it relates to a successful publicity campaign. Because this information has been of great value to our clients, I wanted to share it with you as well. So, here’s Tony…

After many years in the public relations business, I have discovered that there is at least one unchangeable truth; there are really only two elements to every media interview: tone and content.

I know this sounds something like “inside baseball” theory, so let me explain what I mean.

  • Content:This is the information you’re trying to communicate. If you’re an expert in scuba diving, maybe the interview is about the common pitfalls of beginners, or tips on how to get the most out of your dives. Those tips and hints are the informational benefit you’re trying to extend to the audience of the host or journalist that is interviewing you. That’s the content!
  • Tone:The tone is how you deliver that information. If you sound really superior, like a college professor preaching on his worst pet peeves, chances are that you won’t connect with your audience. If you approach it as one who once made mistakes as a beginner and is now sharing how to avoid those mistakes, then your audience will appreciate you.

And here’s the trick, let’s say you completely mess up your presentation of the content. Let’s assume you said things out of order, contradicted yourself and even gave the wrong advice. BUT, you nailed the tone perfectly, balancing between expert and former beginner, and engaging both the interviewer and the audience. Well, you’ll still be remembered as having given a good interview. On the flip side, if you recite your content perfectly, get in every element of your message with precise detail, but your tone is off, then you won’t be regarded as well. In truth, what you say is important, but how you say it is the trump card. In a perfect world, a good interview consists of perfectly articulated content with a flawlessly executed tone that connects with the audience equally. That’s the perfect combo that people should aspire to achieve.

A good example is the advice we recently offered a client of ours, whose interview topic involved the dangers of cyberbullying and sexting for kids. Her point was that parents need to be more careful when they present their kids with consumer technology. It’s not enough to give their kids a cell phone or computer, and an operator’s manual with no supervision. There need to be rules and guidelines for how that technology should be used. Practical and useful advice, when you think about it.

During the call with the client, she articulated that message by saying, “Parents need to stand up and do their jobs better to protect their kids.” Now, I know this woman very well by now and she is very sweet and understanding by nature. However, she had been reading a constant barrage of articles in the media about some kids who were perpetrating some of these behaviors and the parents seemed to be unaware of their kids’ involvement. Her gut reaction was to be angry and so her comments weren’t aimed at all parents, but mainly to just the ones she had read about.

So, our chief strategist suggested she articulate herself in a different way. His point was that most parents believe that they are doing all they can to make ends meet and be responsible parents. Given that idea, most of them probably wouldn’t take kindly to the idea that they need to take better care of their kids, because they already think they are. So, it might be more understanding to say that while she understands many parents are so busy getting through the basics of providing for their kids, it’s understandable how this particular area could be overlooked, so here’s some advice on how to address cyberbulling and sexting to help them out.

The content itself hasn’t really changed. The advice is the same, for parents to provide some level of moral compass for kids who have access to technology that could be used for bullying or sexting. The wording, however, connects better with the larger community of parents who already feel like they are stretched thin. Are there parents who need to “stand up and do better?” Sure there are, but is it fair to address them by aiming the message at ALL parents? Probably not. Moreover, even that minority of parents who, in our client’s opinion, might need a little prodding will be more likely to be receptive to the message when it is worded in a more compassionate way.

The results so far have been nothing short of spectacular, with both television and radio taking to her message extremely well. And, at the end of the day, that’s the point of doing PR. So absolutely research your content until you know it backwards and forwards, but don’t allow that perfect content to become buried because you tripped over your tone. In the media, as in life, sometimes it’s not always what we say, but how we say it that counts the most.

I hope this information from my Senior Campaign Strategist is as helpful to you as it has been to our clients.

My Presidential Slogan: I Shall Go To Korea!

I decided the reason my presidential campaign never got off the ground during the last presidential election was because I never had a slogan. For this campaign I will not make that mistake again. I took immediate action to find a slogan.

Being a direct mail and mail order marketer I realize that any such slogan must be tested to see if it is effective. One trick we use is this: We steal other people’s headlines and slogans if they fit our situation.

The fact of the matter is that I needed a proven slogan; one that had actually gotten somebody elected to President of these United States. I decided to steal President Eisenhower’s slogan: I shall go to Korea!

Ike never said what he would do once he got to Korea.

I’m sure it was not what I was doing in Korea in 1951-1952 which was dodging Chinese artillery and mortar shells.

Maybe if Ike had used the words I will go to Korea! somebody would have asked him what he would do there. Shall left no doubt in anybody’s mind that Ike would nuke North Korea and Manchuria to boot!

In advertising you don’t want to tell the reader of your slogan too much. Read some history about Ike and his slogan at http://tinyurl.com/mc2ot

Ike’s opponent was the very bright Adlai Stevenson from Illinois. Adlai was an elegant speaker. Unfortunately he used big words that most Americans had never heard before.

Here is what Adlai said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention: None of you, my friends, can wholly appreciate what is in my heart. I can only hope that you understand my words.

So he knew he had a problem. Read his speech at [http://tinyurl.com/mjub7] Of course hardly anyone understood his words or his deep thoughts. He may as well have been talking to a pile of cucumbers.

Ike supporters wore badges that said, I like Ike!

Well, the fact did not help Adlai that even those of us who understood Adlai Stevenson’s speeches and voted for him, actually liked Ike.

My dad was a county commissioner in Utah and President of the Democratic Sage Brush Club. He lost his reelection because of the Eisenhower Landslide. He got more votes than any other Utah Democrat but that didn’t help. Eisenhower took more electoral votes than any man in history. Even the Democratic South voted for him. See http://tinyurl.com/9xqqc

Adlai Stevenson was the antithesis of our current President Bush. He would have made a great president if someone other than me had voted for him. I knew that he would lose the election. I voted for him so he wouldn’t look unqualified to be President.

I didn’t have to do that for President Bush.

Anyway, I’ve got to get out of here. The postman just brought my 2 1/4″ Bench Press Button Maker System. Those of you campaigning for my election can find a button maker on the Internet. Make sure you buy a big supply of blanks to go with it.

Here is what each button (badge) should say: I like Taylor Jones, the hack writer!

Also make some buttons that say: Taylor Jones, the hack writer, Shall Go To Korea!

You might have to get a bigger button maker for that.

Well, just make some buttons that say:Send Jones to Korea!.

That will have Kim Doo-bong (1948-1957) and Choi Yong-kun (1957-1972) rolling over in their graves, and Kim Il-sung (since 1972) will be shivering in his rocket-propelled nuclear boots.