My Executives Keep Watering Down My Messages. Help!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 20, 2014 – 9:34 AM

I received a phone call recently from a PR professional who is struggling with a frustrating and all-too-common problem.

He read my book and is trying to implement some of the messaging suggestions I wrote about—but he’s running up against executives who are so scared of potentially alienating any stakeholder that they hedge every statement and water down the messages to the point where they’re not even remotely engaging.

He wondered what someone in his position can do when they know the right thing to do but keep getting thwarted by overly cautious colleagues.

The first thing I would share with my executives is this: We know that some forms of communication are more efficient at transferring information from us (the organization) to them (the organization’s audiences) than others.

Red Pen

We know, for example, that:

  • PowerPoint slides full of bullets and text aren’t as efficient at transferring information as well-designed and simple visuals.
  • Sharing data point after data point isn’t as efficient at transferring information as an anecdote that contextualizes that data.

Similarly, we know that trying to communicate during media interviews with carefully wordsmithed phrases full of hedged, cautious language isn’t nearly as efficient as transferring information in the form of tightly constructed and more memorable media sound bites.

The executives may be pleased that their messages have been cobbled together through a pleasing process that allowed the input of a dozen board members—but that focus-grouped message will sound like it’s been cobbled together by a dozen people.

Their Caution Comes With a Cost

The executives should know that their caution may come at a cost of more media coverage, possibly resulting in fewer customers, donors, or members. I’m not suggesting that executives should take reckless risks, but rather that they carefully consider the consequences of their caution. Their preference for risk-free language may be costing them more than the rewards effective media appearances would bestow upon them.

Looking at similar organizations may also help. If other organizations in the same space have more media success, it’s worth assessing whether their less cautious approach is part of the reason. Presenting executives with such evidence can often be persuasive.

Have you experienced this problem? What advice would you offer this PR pro? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Comments (3)

  1. By Daphne Gray-Grant:

    I agree that presenting execs with examples of what other companies have done (that you want to emulate) is the single best tool for persuading them to change their attitudes. Just make sure that they admire and respect that company first — otherwise your example might backfire on you!

  2. By Christopher Witt:

    I find the problem gets even worse when the executive runs the message by a committee.

    Your suggestions are right to the point. Thanks for sharing them.

  3. By Kathleen:

    Great point, Daphne!

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