Public Relations is about communication. It is about presenting to people the message that represents the group, and the actions of the group.
No matter what your message is, how you say it matters. PR is not about changing your message into something that is “acceptable”, it is about learning the words that will let your message be understood.
Many people feel that you shouldn’t change your language and “dilute” it when you are speaking about important topics such as this. From the PR perspective however, this is rather silly.
The point of communication is to be understood, to convey information. As you are the one trying to distribute the information, it is your responsibility to speak in the words your audience will connect with.
For example, in your world view words like fascist, or dictator, or movement, or protest might mean different things than they do to the people sitting at home in front of their TVs. The people at home will not make an effort to understand things from your point of view, therefore it is your responsibility to explain yourself from their perspective.
Most important, perhaps, is to understand this: the media will report on the topic. If you choose to talk to them, they may twist what you say. If you choose not to talk to them, they will make it up, or someone else will speak for us.
As a group we cannot shun the media. Individually, we can say “I don’t want to talk to media, I don’t like that,” but always be willing to direct people to someone who is. That’s why we’re creating PR structure, so that anyone can say, “That person over there knows better than I do, let me introduce you.”
Writing PR involves using several tricks to communicate the feeling and emotion as well as the content. Beautiful words are important, but more important is being understood.
Generally, it is best to start any official press release from the specifics of what is wrong, progress from there to what actions are taking place, and then in the last paragraph or section expand out into the grandiose.
It’s also good to use common tricks of speech writing. Create internal promises in the beginning that the document can then fulfill. (“There are several reasons... First... Second...”)
Use reflexive sentences that create rhythm. (“We don’t do this because it is easy, we do this because it is right.” “The people do not belong to the government, the government belongs to the people.”) This is often one of the best ways to communicate abstract ideas. Use these sparingly however. (Relatedly, avoiding contractions like “it’s” or “you’re” will add a tone of importance to any sentence if the rest of the document uses them.)
Vary sentence length. Having a multitude of long sentences makes the reader weary, and they begin to lose the content of what is being said, the mental wear dragging their understanding down where no issue of verbiage exists. So be varied. Have places where you can be powerful in brevity. Using small sentence like these also creates rhythm. You can feel it. It feels like it matters.
Watch for words which are tired. Do not use an uncommon word, such as peculiar, more than once in a document if at all possible. It feels peculiar when a word you don’t hear often suddenly crops up a lot. Suddenly you begin to feel insight into the peculiar person who wrote it, instead of the content of the words. You imagine their peculiar fingers typing, as they nod their head in agreement with the words they write.
And above all else, remember that your thoughts, the way you think them, means nothing. Not mine, not yours, not anyone’s. All that matters is what the reader receives from the writing. If that means it has to be said in a way you wouldn’t think it, then you need to deal with that. It’s about communicating, not expressing yourself.
NEVER agree to an interview unless you know what you want to say. For instance, if I’m at a protest acting as PR I may want to make a point of how family friendly the event is and call for more people to come down. Perhaps that’s the messaging.
When I am interviewed on camera, no matter what I am asked, tie it back to that point.
“Are you concerned about the reaction of the police?”
“To be honest, not too much. (This may be a lie, that’s okay.) If you look around, there’s so many people here, from so many walks of life, it really feels more like a barbeque or get-together. Some people have their kids here, and people are having a good time while they say something important to them. It’s very family friendly.”
Rules for video interviews:
1. Never respond with more than 50 words to ANY question if at all possible.
2. If you need time to formulate an answer, but you do know the answer, you can stall by talking around the question. “Well the police do what the city tells them to, and I see them around, just sort of watching. To be honest, not too much...”
3. NEVER be afraid to tell a reporter OR a camera “I’m not sure,” “I don’t know,” “I haven’t been involved in that part, but I can find someone who has,” “Give me five minutes and I can get you an answer”. This does not show disorganization, or that you are amateur. To the contrary, it shows that you take what you are doing seriously, and will not say something that you are not willing to stick by later.
4. Speak generally, in ways that represent the group, not just yourself. Even saying “in my opinion” or “for me” or something like that is usually a bad idea. Virtually all “bad editing” done by media is of this nature. If you say something to represent yourself, it will be presented as representing the whole group 100% of the time. Take responsibility for that.
5. How you look matters a LOT less than how you present yourself. Speak clearly, speak loudly, speak confidently. If you cannot do these things, avoid the cameras if possible.
6. That said, dress the part. Look like you take yourself seriously and others will too.
This includes radio talk shows, TV panel programs, and sometimes local press. They want to ask questions which generate interesting and sometimes emotional responses. It’s the format.
Do not try to interrupt. Let them finish. If they are interrupting continuous, remain silent for several seconds after they allow you to speak. They will get the message. If they do not, simply tell them that you won’t respond any longer if you keep getting interrupted, because you are not going to interrupt them. Then stick by that.
Most people, even the professionals, go in to these planning on trying to talk over each other. If you play it right however, when you get that moment to make them look like the children they are acting like, any points they have made so far will become marginalized, and you will be seen as the voice of reason and decorum. This is not easy, but it is insanely effective. It will not make you friends in that portion of the press however.
For press corps interviews, where press simply ask questions as a group, keep answers VERY specific, and fall back on the “I don’t know”s and “I’ll get back to you”s whenever you are not 100% sure.
For Restore the Fourth, this is the structure that we are using, briefly outlined: