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Start asking “What are you for?” Not “What are you against?”

photo of Kristi Piehl

When it comes to controversial topics, it’s safe to assume half the audience doesn’t agree.

—Kristi Piehl, Media Minefield

When it comes to messaging, a simple mindset shift can change the heart, tone and impact of an earned media interview, social post or blog article. It starts by considering two questions:

What are you for?

What are you against?

A message rooted in the first question allows you to focus on your perspective or business. The answer will maximize the impact of the opportunity for your business or brand by sharing your key messages. A message focused on answering the second question inherently focuses attention on an opposing viewpoint, brand or business.

You don’t need a study or stat to know these are polarizing times. To show support for a particular business, politician or point of view, it’s tempting to highlight what’s wrong with the opposition rather than communicate what’s appealing about your position. However, in an earned media interview, any soundbite that includes a mention of a competitor means valuable minutes are wasted focusing on a brand or product that isn’t yours. Isn’t the point of earned media to present your perspective and showcase your expertise? By mentioning another business, the earned media opportunity can essentially turn into a commercial for someone else.

Positive positioning also changes how the audience hears the message, making it more difficult to elicit a negative reaction. We have well-known clients who publicly support politicians and attach their names, brands and businesses to their position. In the last election, one of our clients did a lot of earned media interviews talking about why he supports Donald Trump. He did not attack Hillary Clinton, and he did not name call, which kept his messages and the reaction from his audience more positive. Did people agree with him? Some did. Did people disagree with him? Some did. Did his business benefit from his earned media exposure? You bet it did! Isn’t that a primary goal of earned media?

Determining your message and owning your story, rather than comparing yourself to others, needs to happen long before a reporter starts asking questions. This mindset shift isn’t natural for many people, and it takes practice. Strategizing and practicing prior to an interview is critical. When a client is coached prior to an earned media opportunity to focus on what they are for, rather than what they are against, the interview is more controlled, “on message” and beneficial for the brand.

Communicating who or what you are for, rather than who or what you are against, changes conversations and reactions to your message. For example, I’m a Vikings fan. By wearing an “I love the Vikings” shirt, I’m showing support for my team. That Vikings shirt sends a much different message than if I wear a shirt that says, “I hate the Packers.”

My “I love the Vikings” shirt might prompt Packer fans to answer back with a “Go Packers” or with their own “I love the Packers” shirt. An “I hate the Packers shirt,” however, is more likely to evoke colorful language and a negative reaction.

When it comes to controversial topics, it’s safe to assume half the audience doesn’t agree. The minute a message turns negative, it opens the door for others to communicate what they are against. In fact, earned media stories that are confrontational are fodder for social media arguments.

Think of how much more enjoyable social media would be if everyone focused on what they are “for” rather than what they are “against.” That same perspective applies to an effective public relations strategy. Earned media is a valuable resource to grow your brand. Don’t waste those precious minutes focused on someone else’s message.

Kristi Piehl is the founder and CEO of Media Minefield.


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