Driving to work the morning after Election Day I caught an interview with Renee Montagne and newly elected North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan. Montagne asked the senator-elect to elaborate on something which was a very simple request. The Dole-Hagan battle turned on a negative ad the Dole camp ran which many felt crossed the line into the unfair. Montagne said to Hagan, “Briefly remind us what that ad was an how big of a role you think it played.”

Image by tvvoodoo on Stock.Xchng

What the public mostly sees when spokespeople rely on talking points and messaging to avoid answering the question. Image by tvvoodoo on Stock.Xchng

Hagan made small mention of the attack tactic and then redirected the answer to mindless ‘tician talk focused on the topics of the economy, jobs in North Carolina and bringing change to Washington. When Montagne pressed, even politely offering she didn’t want to dwell on old news but did want to get an answer to her question of what impact the ad played, Hagan did the same redirect to the issue babble. By reciting campaign talking points over and over again two things became very clear to me. First, Hagan isn’t very smart. She won the election. There’s no need to continue campaigning. Second, and more importantly, in today’s media environment, she’s not a good communicator.

Several communications and public relations professional just uttered, “WTF?!”

Was she on message? Yes. Did she hit her talking points? Yes. Did she steer away from a sensitive or negative subject to refocus the conversation? Yes. So why am I claiming she isn’t a good communicator?

She didn’t answer the question.

From a philosophical point of view, social media is a reflection of the preferred communications of today’s consumer. People want dialog, conversation, both of which demand humanity from the other party. This is why you’ll hear many a social media strategist say your company must be human. You can’t have a conversation with a logo or a building.

Whether a brand, a corporation or a politician (arguably less human than many buildings), to be an effective communicator in today’s media environment, you have to participate in the conversation. This dictates you must listen as well as talk. Give as well as receive.

It dictates that you answer the question.

I would propose that all of our audiences, be they on-line or off-, now demand that humanity. Talking points and messaging are one-way communications mechanisms of the old guard. They’re cold. They’re impersonal. Kinda like a building. You can’t have a conversation with a building. Renee Montagne, as good as she is, had a hard time having a conversation with Hagan because she stayed on message.

Public relations professionals should consider this as they prepare their CEOs and spokespeople to represent the company or brand in media opportunities. Talking points and messaging certainly can be intertwined into the conversation, but it will take a much smarter talking head than we’re used to seeing to pull it off. I would challenge you to teach them how to have a conversation, not hit the company messaging.

If not, your CEO can talk circles around the finest of reporters. But no one will be listening.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Well, Arnold, I think anyone who asks a question, at the core of it all, deserves an answer. Certainly, there are times when the motivations of the question asker adulterate that situation, but this wasn't one of them. So, no. I'm not going to get over it. The humanity of conversation demands a mutual level of respect from person to person. Flippant and circumventing answers only mean you're trying to manipulate the conversation, which makes you less credible.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    It is, Katie. Just hoping that we as communications professionals can start helping spokespeople, especially politicians, understand that what made up a “skilled communicator” a few years ago no longer holds water. We want transparency, honesty and integrity in our communications now. That's what social media has given the marketplace. And it carries over off-line as well.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    It is, Katie. Just hoping that we as communications professionals can start helping spokespeople, especially politicians, understand that what made up a “skilled communicator” a few years ago no longer holds water. We want transparency, honesty and integrity in our communications now. That's what social media has given the marketplace. And it carries over off-line as well.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    It is, Katie. Just hoping that we as communications professionals can start helping spokespeople, especially politicians, understand that what made up a “skilled communicator” a few years ago no longer holds water. We want transparency, honesty and integrity in our communications now. That's what social media has given the marketplace. And it carries over off-line as well.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Everyone looks more human when they're dusting themselves off. If only they'd done a better job of it before the election, it might have been different.

    Thanks for stopping by again, Lisa.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Everyone looks more human when they're dusting themselves off. If only they'd done a better job of it before the election, it might have been different.

    Thanks for stopping by again, Lisa.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Everyone looks more human when they're dusting themselves off. If only they'd done a better job of it before the election, it might have been different.

    Thanks for stopping by again, Lisa.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Wes. Unfortunatley, PR pros aren't WTF-ing over Hagan, just me. Most PR pros probably listened to the interview and said, “She did a good job of sticking to her talking points.” My reaction was, “She's a freakin' inanimate object.” Guess that's why I'm not getting any big PR job offers. Heh.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Wes. Unfortunatley, PR pros aren't WTF-ing over Hagan, just me. Most PR pros probably listened to the interview and said, “She did a good job of sticking to her talking points.” My reaction was, “She's a freakin' inanimate object.” Guess that's why I'm not getting any big PR job offers. Heh.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Wes. Unfortunatley, PR pros aren't WTF-ing over Hagan, just me. Most PR pros probably listened to the interview and said, “She did a good job of sticking to her talking points.” My reaction was, “She's a freakin' inanimate object.” Guess that's why I'm not getting any big PR job offers. Heh.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, Frank. Appreciate your perspective and agree with your points.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, Frank. Appreciate your perspective and agree with your points.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, Frank. Appreciate your perspective and agree with your points.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Jen,

    It all boils down to honesty. If you can't answer the question, then you're hiding something. If you're hiding something, I don't trust you. If I don't trust you, then the conversation's over.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Jen,

    It all boils down to honesty. If you can't answer the question, then you're hiding something. If you're hiding something, I don't trust you. If I don't trust you, then the conversation's over.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Jen,

    It all boils down to honesty. If you can't answer the question, then you're hiding something. If you're hiding something, I don't trust you. If I don't trust you, then the conversation's over.

  • http://www.twitter.com/DeirdreReid Deirdre Reid

    Great post. You articulated exactly why listening to politicians is so infuriating sometimes, and why the “town hall” format of debates can be a boon for voters, if the candidates really answer the questions.

  • http://deirdrereid.wordpress.com Deirdre Reid

    Great post. You articulated exactly why listening to politicians is so infuriating sometimes, and why the “town hall” format of debates can be a boon for voters, if the candidates really answer the questions.

  • http://deirdrereid.wordpress.com Deirdre Reid

    Great post. You articulated exactly why listening to politicians is so infuriating sometimes, and why the “town hall” format of debates can be a boon for voters, if the candidates really answer the questions.

  • http://deirdrereid.wordpress.com Deirdre Reid

    Great post. You articulated exactly why listening to politicians is so infuriating sometimes, and why the “town hall” format of debates can be a boon for voters, if the candidates really answer the questions.

  • http://www.socialmediaheadhunter.com Jim Durbin

    While I share your frustration, i would like to throw something out there. Politicians aren't just trained to answer questions like Hagan. They're actually trained to respond to keywords with stock phrases. It's one of the reasons that politicians sound so incredibly stupid in the debates.

    The argument is that for many people, an interview or debate is the only time they will see or hear the politician. Thus what sounds incredibly dull and repetitive to someone who is keyed in, sounds refreshing and comforting to the swing voters, which are the people who tune in at the end of an election.

    Take Palin. A lot of hay was made about Palin's responses to Couric, but it's clear that her baffling responses were the result of too many keywords in Couric's questions. The real game is figuring out when a politician is playing dumb, and when they're just a wind-em-up monkey who has nice hair and takes orders well. The standard role of running of president isn't any of the things we would ask for – it's the ability to give the same speech hundreds of times, while raising large amounts of money, and getting the public and other politicians to project their thoughts as your own. That's what a politician does, and the leadership and decision making abilities, you hope are there.

    And while it would be nice to have intelligent politicians (Obama's intelligence clearly won over a large number of upper income voters that voted Bush in 2004), it also gives the opposition the chance to seize on things that are said and twist them. When you take a stand, you're alienating someone, and giving your opponent the chance to define you.

    Of course, it helps if the media has a story they want to tell, and you know how to play into that. As for Kagan, her lack of response could be the inability to respond, or it could be that she was told not to, and thus never left her comfort zone, no matter how lame it was.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      And your point, Jim, is the point – We need communications professionals to stop programming politicians and teach them how to have real conversations again. Well stated and much appreciated. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.socialmediaheadhunter.com Jim Durbin

    While I share your frustration, i would like to throw something out there. Politicians aren't just trained to answer questions like Hagan. They're actually trained to respond to keywords with stock phrases. It's one of the reasons that politicians sound so incredibly stupid in the debates.

    The argument is that for many people, an interview or debate is the only time they will see or hear the politician. Thus what sounds incredibly dull and repetitive to someone who is keyed in, sounds refreshing and comforting to the swing voters, which are the people who tune in at the end of an election.

    Take Palin. A lot of hay was made about Palin's responses to Couric, but it's clear that her baffling responses were the result of too many keywords in Couric's questions. The real game is figuring out when a politician is playing dumb, and when they're just a wind-em-up monkey who has nice hair and takes orders well. The standard role of running of president isn't any of the things we would ask for – it's the ability to give the same speech hundreds of times, while raising large amounts of money, and getting the public and other politicians to project their thoughts as your own. That's what a politician does, and the leadership and decision making abilities, you hope are there.

    And while it would be nice to have intelligent politicians (Obama's intelligence clearly won over a large number of upper income voters that voted Bush in 2004), it also gives the opposition the chance to seize on things that are said and twist them. When you take a stand, you're alienating someone, and giving your opponent the chance to define you.

    Of course, it helps if the media has a story they want to tell, and you know how to play into that. As for Kagan, her lack of response could be the inability to respond, or it could be that she was told not to, and thus never left her comfort zone, no matter how lame it was.

  • http://www.socialmediaheadhunter.com Jim Durbin

    While I share your frustration, i would like to throw something out there. Politicians aren't just trained to answer questions like Hagan. They're actually trained to respond to keywords with stock phrases. It's one of the reasons that politicians sound so incredibly stupid in the debates.

    The argument is that for many people, an interview or debate is the only time they will see or hear the politician. Thus what sounds incredibly dull and repetitive to someone who is keyed in, sounds refreshing and comforting to the swing voters, which are the people who tune in at the end of an election.

    Take Palin. A lot of hay was made about Palin's responses to Couric, but it's clear that her baffling responses were the result of too many keywords in Couric's questions. The real game is figuring out when a politician is playing dumb, and when they're just a wind-em-up monkey who has nice hair and takes orders well. The standard role of running of president isn't any of the things we would ask for – it's the ability to give the same speech hundreds of times, while raising large amounts of money, and getting the public and other politicians to project their thoughts as your own. That's what a politician does, and the leadership and decision making abilities, you hope are there.

    And while it would be nice to have intelligent politicians (Obama's intelligence clearly won over a large number of upper income voters that voted Bush in 2004), it also gives the opposition the chance to seize on things that are said and twist them. When you take a stand, you're alienating someone, and giving your opponent the chance to define you.

    Of course, it helps if the media has a story they want to tell, and you know how to play into that. As for Kagan, her lack of response could be the inability to respond, or it could be that she was told not to, and thus never left her comfort zone, no matter how lame it was.

  • http://www.socialmediaheadhunter.com Jim Durbin

    While I share your frustration, i would like to throw something out there. Politicians aren't just trained to answer questions like Hagan. They're actually trained to respond to keywords with stock phrases. It's one of the reasons that politicians sound so incredibly stupid in the debates.

    The argument is that for many people, an interview or debate is the only time they will see or hear the politician. Thus what sounds incredibly dull and repetitive to someone who is keyed in, sounds refreshing and comforting to the swing voters, which are the people who tune in at the end of an election.

    Take Palin. A lot of hay was made about Palin's responses to Couric, but it's clear that her baffling responses were the result of too many keywords in Couric's questions. The real game is figuring out when a politician is playing dumb, and when they're just a wind-em-up monkey who has nice hair and takes orders well. The standard role of running of president isn't any of the things we would ask for – it's the ability to give the same speech hundreds of times, while raising large amounts of money, and getting the public and other politicians to project their thoughts as your own. That's what a politician does, and the leadership and decision making abilities, you hope are there.

    And while it would be nice to have intelligent politicians (Obama's intelligence clearly won over a large number of upper income voters that voted Bush in 2004), it also gives the opposition the chance to seize on things that are said and twist them. When you take a stand, you're alienating someone, and giving your opponent the chance to define you.

    Of course, it helps if the media has a story they want to tell, and you know how to play into that. As for Kagan, her lack of response could be the inability to respond, or it could be that she was told not to, and thus never left her comfort zone, no matter how lame it was.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    And your point, Jim, is the point – We need communications professionals to stop programming politicians and teach them how to have real conversations again. Well stated and much appreciated. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    And your point, Jim, is the point – We need communications professionals to stop programming politicians and teach them how to have real conversations again. Well stated and much appreciated. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    And your point, Jim, is the point – We need communications professionals to stop programming politicians and teach them how to have real conversations again. Well stated and much appreciated. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    And your point, Jim, is the point – We need communications professionals to stop programming politicians and teach them how to have real conversations again. Well stated and much appreciated. Thanks for the comment.

  • Pingback: The Shift Of Trusted, Influential Media: From Brands To People

  • Pingback: Message in a Bottle | soloprpro.com

  • Pingback: Flexibility is not strategy (part 4) « Spackle

  • Pingback: Why messaging is so important instead of just babble | Your Web Chick

  • Pingback: Why messaging is so important instead of just babble - Chrissy Morin