One of my Fleishman Hillard colleagues based in the UK, Nick Andrews, wrote a great post recently on the FH Center on Reputation blog about “The Power of the POV.”
He opened his post with this anecdote:
“I was talking to a friend last week who was vexed. Why, he wondered, was his colleague, a man with over 40 years of experience in his sector, so reluctant to express a point of view? He clearly had one. If you sat him down of an evening, with a cognac and a good cigar, he undoubtedly could have talked all night about the state of the industry, its challenges and possible solutions. It would have been informed, intelligent and, most probably, fascinating. But ask him to express the same views to a regulator or a journalist, or write them in a blog post, and he would dry up. All very frustrating but not, in my experience, uncommon.”
Nick and I exchanged emails about this topic, as we certainly are having the same struggles on this side of the pond. He notes that spokespeople may fear being wrong in a very public way if they express an opinion that is edgy. I’m sure some worry about potentially stepping over corporate restrictions and dictates. Some may feel constrained by internal politics, worrying whether they are the right person in the company to express a particular opinion.
For the most part, though, I honestly believe it is just a different way of operating and that takes time to develop. When you’ve spent years in the weeds of technology product specifics, it isn’t natural to talk about the “why” of the products they are producing. And when they are part of companies who take their product roadmaps very seriously, they may worry about getting ahead of new developments that could be delayed. They also may not feel comfortable expressing futuristic viewpoints when they won’t have a specific solution to address a particular need or issue for a long time.
The good news is that the press is helping us break the POV logjam. None of the press in our healthcare or tech markets much cares about product news anymore. Unless a household name brand company is bringing out the latest smartphone or consumer gadget, product news doesn’t excite them. And even with these new devices, there is as much written about the what if’s of a product now than there is about the actual technical product specifications). For the most part, the media today want to know what our clients think, not what they do. So the potential thought leaders have no choice but to be dragged into the world of POVs and the Passionate Platforms of thought leadership we build for them. And as communications experts, we’re doing many Executive Storytelling Workshops and coaching sessions with them to teach them the way of this new world of interviews and content. Which is exactly what my FH colleague notes – this reluctance of spokespeople to express POVs is something the communications people need to work on. The onus is on us to tease these out of them.
We’ve found a few ways to cut through the reticence and the risk aversion and help spokespeople get their POV mojo going.
- First of all, give them our communications POV that this is the only way to tell stories now. In a recent input session with a proven spokesperson who had taken on a new role, I set up the usual Q&A session a little differently. I told him what we needed from him this time and why. Rather than dive into a list of questions, I set it up with him by explaining the current media environment and their interest in hearing more about key trends and issues and his viewpoints about these rather than specifics about the solutions he is building for his customers. I told him they want to hear opinions in context that help them understand and confirm their views of what’s happening in a marketplace. That gives them the seeds they need to develop good material for their publications and their readers. The spokesperson simply said “okay” when I finished. But his response to our Qs and our discussion was entirely different than in the past. Sometimes, friends, you just need to ask for what you want and you’ll get it.
- Second, you need to prime the pump with “outside in” intelligence to get their POV juices flowing. Instead of passively drawing information from the spokespeople, bring them examples of topics and issues that are hot and trending to consider. It helps them connect their solutions and directions to the hot themes and flavors their steps toward good POVs.
- Last, but not least, once you get them to the POV level, celebrate it and prove how it works. Make sure you share the reactions to your pitches of their viewpoints on these hot themes so they see that it works. Prepare them at this same high level for the interviews or content development that results from this outreach and show them how well their storytelling is working when the results roll in.
As Nick articulated so well in his blog, there is power in the POV. And when the POV is packed with opinion and a viewpoint that the spokesperson can talk about passionately, it evolves into a thought leadership platform. And that’s when the ROI for the spokesperson and the company really multiplies.