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Communicating through the media

Scott Chisholm is a man who knows the media. The former Sky News presenter is now a sought after communications specialist who has trained many high-profile politicians on how to deal with the media. He coined the mnemonic ‘A.M.E.N.’ to help understand what to keep in mind when communicating with the media. WithPR were lucky enough to have him come in and explain why A.M.E.N is useful for all those in the communications industry.

To begin with, ‘A’ is for audience. You must understand the audience you are targeting, and the function the media play in your targeting of this audience. What is your audience profile? What socio-economic group are they? How old are they? Once you know who you are talking to, then you can understand how to use the media most effectively to get through to them. After all, there is no point securing your client coverage in a paper whose primary audience would not be interested in their services. Once the target audience is identified, only then can you take the next step of identifying the media channels that resonate with them most.

That brings us onto ‘M’ – for messages. You have identified your target audience and the relevant media channels, but you don’t want to do all this hard work only to communicate the wrong messages to the audience. Remember, the media is your client’s way of managing and defining their reputation. It is a PR’s responsibility to manage, cultivate and maintain this reputation effectively – so communicating your client’s messages effectively is crucial. But how do you communicate messages effectively? Alistair Darling, one of Scott’s many clients, was asked why his messages got through to the Scottish audience better than Alex Salmond’s, during the TV debates for IndyRef. He put it down to simplicity. Darling said he talked to the audience as if he was explaining it to his family. No matter the audience, no matter the publication, you must help them do as little thinking as possible. And this means no jargon. No technical language. The most effective messages will be simple and easy to understand.

The best messages will also help the audience understand why your clients are doing what they are doing. The whatand how should be relatively simple to explain, if you know your clients well enough. But the audience will only really buy into the client, or the brand, if they know why they do what they do. And this is often more difficult to articulate. The most successful brands are those that are properly understood by the consumers – they understand what the brand actually represents, rather than simply what the brand does. Your clients’ journey is important for consumers, and the messages must reflect this.

The ‘E’ is for example. A lot of brands and businesses make big claims for themselves, but the ones who really set themselves apart do so because they put their money where their mouth is. Claims are nothing without examples to back them up. As such, you need to provide evidence to show you’re not making empty claims. Another word for it is proof. The audience needs proof that you are what you say you are. If they are ‘experts’, then make sure you can provide an example of their expertise in action. The examples need to be consistent with the messages, and illustrated in a way that the audience can understand.

Finally, the ‘N’ is for negative. Before you ask, no, there is nothing negative in the way you should be communicating your client’s messages. However, you must anticipate the negatives that other people might identify with your client, or with their announcement. Remember, it is a journalist’s job to articulate the concerns of the public, and if there is a worry, then they have every right to challenge you. However, most challenges can be dealt with effectively and efficiently if you know what the critics will say before they say them.  If you can pre-empt the criticism, you can plan the necessary responses without suffering any reputational damage.

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