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Here’s a statement which shows how some spokespeople can make a relatively straightforward message completely impenetrable.
“Organically, we have been diversifying just because of natural selection and people coming through.”
Any thoughts on what this jargon-filled gobbledygook might be about?
Well, let us put you out of your misery.
It was a comment which was made last week by Martin Glenn, the chief executive of the Football Association. Somewhat ironically given his choice of language, he was unveiling plans to improve inclusivity in the sport and ensure the organisation better represents the people who play it.
Now, I don’t pretend to know anything about Mr Glenn’s life away from the FA, but I find it hard to believe that if friends or family asked him how things were going at work, he would start his response by saying ‘organically, we have been diversifying…’
People just don’t talk like that in the real world, so why do it when talking to the media?
Did he think it would make him sound intelligent? Was the aim to make the announcement and the work of the FA more complex than it really was?
Whatever the reason, he ended up with a phrase about as far removed as possible from the conversational tone we tell delegates on our media training courses they should strive for in their interviews.
In fact he had turned this particular message into little more than nonsense.
And the reality is that despite the extensive coverage of this FA announcement, which has been well received, only two publications used that particular quote, and one of those was in jest.
Journalists simply didn’t have any appetite for this ‘organic’ waffle because they know it is the language that causes readers to switch-off and lose interest. Not unreasonably, they also want the audience to be able to understand their story.
On the same day Mr Glenn chose to baffle us with his own particular blend of corporate speak, the Government was similarly trying to regain the trust of the public with a cabinet reshuffle.
Although that didn’t run particularly smoothly, the message itself was good and was pretty much what I think Mr Glenn and his organisation really wanted to say.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was ‘ensuring the government looks more like the country it serves’, while new education minister Nadhim Zahawi said ‘we need to reflect what the country looks like’.
Subsequent analysis has suggested that this diversity claim may be somewhat flimsy, but if we focus purely on the wording, it is a very effective message. It sounds natural and conversational and is memorable.
And it captured the attention of sub-editors, reflected in the vast amount of headlines focusing on that theme.
Mr Glenn and the FA are, of course, not alone in their ability to turn the meaningful into the meaningless.
If you’ve read this media training blog before, you may recall that we highlighted late last year how Carpetright explained a fall in bed sales with an extraordinary phrase which said it had been ‘impacted in the period by an acceleration of re-ranging activity to improve the proposition’. My guess is that it was trying to say it replaced its only stock because the old ones were not selling.
And that’s the thing, I was guessing, in much the same way that many football fans and other people with an interest in that story were guessing what Mr Glenn meant.
A media interview is no place for ambiguous messaging.
Good spokespeople remove complexity and don’t leave the audience in any doubt about the point they are trying to make.
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