Executive experience? The art of staying on message

October 2, 2008

Have you noticed that the phrase “executive experience” is being used to answer questions about a certain politician who has taken center stage in the last few weeks? No matter what the question is, inserted into the response (since often there is no actual “answer”) is the phrase “executive experience” — whether it is provided by the politician or by a supporter or spokesperson.

The phrase “executive experience” is even being used by detractors, as they dispute what is implied by the statement.

This is a real-world, real-time example of the art of staying “on message.” And by doing so, the general public is picking up the phrase — and the intended message behind it — with many taking that message as fact.

While I don’t suggest that nonprofit staff should practice “truthiness,” I do think that we can learn a lot from this process about getting our message across to the media while answering their questions honestly.

Before you talk to a reporter, think about the message that you want to share with the readers/viewers/ listeners (not to mention the bloggers that might pick up the story). How do you want to frame the story, meaning what’s the point of view from which you want to tell your story? And, more importantly, what world view do you hope to impart on the audience?

For example, do you want to audience to see the current economic morass as a case of greedy financiers, several years of poor governmental regulation or as the result of an economic system that is flawed by emphasizing support for the wealthy over that for other U.S. residents?

Once you’ve decided your frame, jot down the main message and the accompanying messages to communicate during the interview. Then use every opportunity during the interview to insert your message into the answers the reporter seeks.

Staying on message is sometimes tough, but it helps to spread your nonprofit’s message and ultimately its mission to your constituents and beyond to the general public. And somehow I imagine your message will be much more substantive than “no matter what else, we have executive experience.”

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