PR Wars Podcast: Cut through the clutter

How do you get your messaging to cut through the clutter? On today’s PR Wars, former journalist and agency pro Sean O’Leary, Vice President at Susan Davis International, talks about messaging in the emerging tech sector. Learn how to differentiate your company in a crowded marketplace.

Listen to PR Wars on:

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars! Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here’s your host, Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Thanks for tuning into PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Today we’re going to talk about making your messaging cut through the clutter. Joining me as co host and fellow communication titan, Brad Grantham.

Brad Grantham
This is a topic I’ve really been looking forward to. So why don’t we just cut through the clutter and get down to it.

Chris Shigas
Our special guest today is Sean O’Leary. He’s a Vice President at Susan Davis International out of Washington, DC. One focus for Sean is the tech sector. And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of cluttered messaging in tech today. Sean, thanks for joining us. I appreciate you being here with Brad and I on PR Wars. We’re talking today a little bit about tech and tech PR. And one of the things… it’s such a crowded marketplace, both consumer tech, software, hardware, b2b tech, talk a little bit about messaging. So when you approach a client in the tech space, how do you start to get them to cut through the clutter with their messaging?

Sean O’Leary
Yep. So that’s a great question. Because a lot of the times when I’m speaking with tech companies, they are and for good reason… they’re focused on what they’re able to do. And they’re really focused on the tech aspect of whatever their technology is, and I’ve talked about this before, but like the word “solution,” right, it seems like everyone wants to use the word solution. Especially being here, Washington DC… I feel like there’s 1,000 companies with solutions in their name. So, that does not help you stand out.

Chris Shigas
Yeah, no kidding. I mean, I’ll give you this. The word “solutions,” is a huge pet peeve of mine. And I was at a trade show… back when we used to have trade shows, if you remember them. And I actually walked down the whole aisle in a trade show row. And every booth explained themselves as providing solutions, Business Solutions. I made it to the end of the row and I turned around and I looked back at all the trade show booths, and realized I didn’t understand what any of these companies did. Not one of them, right. It’s such a generic word. And it’s such an easy way out for a communicator.

Sean O’Leary
Exactly. So that’s why when you when it comes to messaging, I think there’s two things that I like to focus on. The first thing is what’s the problem that you’re trying to solve? Don’t just jump to the solution message, what that problem is, because I think that’s the easiest way to come across to potential customers who hear you know what I have that problem, I’m interested in listening to them. And then the second piece is messaging the results, and what you can actually provide, because to your point, when you kind of use the word solution, it doesn’t really have any meaning anymore. But if you can go to a customer or reporter and say this technology will save X amount of time, X amount of money, whatever it is, then it becomes real. So I think those two things, it’s about sort of making the technology real to people. And that is how you kind of break free from, from the competitors, we’re going to all say the same things.

Brad Grantham
So let’s talk about, you know, messaging, the problem messaging, the results, especially in the environment that we find ourselves in now, you know, we had to cut through the clutter before. Now it’s even more so than ever. When you’re advising a client and saying, Alright, we’re going to message the problem in the results. We’re going to do it in this format. Do you add any extra steps now, that you didn’t do before, too after the clutter.

Sean O’Leary
Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s there’s two things. One, which I think is really interesting is that in terms of figuring out what the problem is, I think a lot of times these tech companies know what the problem is, but they’re not focused on what the problem is. So just as an example, usually when I start with a client, I have them kind of give a background on sort of their their solution, right. And as they start talking, I can hear what the problem is, but they’re not hearing it. So I think it’s part of you know, being on this side as being on the PR side, there are things that you hear they’re like, wait a minute, that’s a problem that would apply elsewhere that they might not be thinking about. So a lot of the times it just gets it just it’s it’s an old trick I used to use as a reporter, right? Just ask a lot of open ended questions, and you usually get to the answer. So a lot of times when I’m dealing especially like product, folks who are really focused on the product, just the more they talk, you kind of hear little things that they say they kind of come across that makes sense. And then from a results perspective, and again, this kind of goes back to being a reporter. I would kind of put myself in the shoes of a reporter like what’s what Result Am I going to care about? Like, if I’m writing a story? What am I going to put in that first or second paragraph? And a lot of times, it really gets down to like I said, it’s like time saved, money saved. Like, what are those things that make you stand out? And how can you quantify it? Because I think a lot of times that quantification hasn’t happened.

Brad Grantham
So let me take a step back again, and this environment, when you’re working with that client, do you say I want to do in addition to the pitch, I want to create a video that explains this easily, and cuts through the clutter in 30 seconds or less? Or what are those types of content that you may be looking to do in addition to what you used to do before?

Sean O’Leary
Yep, so I would say in addition, yeah, video, I think is a great one. I think the important thing with video, like you said is making sure that there are short videos that you can share via social media because I think a lot of times companies want to do videos and they ended up being like these three to four minute you know, magnum opus is that don’t really resonate when someone’s flipping on Twitter. So it’s kind of like one of those like, what’s the 32 second 30 to 60 second video You know, you can put together and especially right now, because of COVID. There’s so many of these virtual events and webinars. So how are you going to be able to get your message across quickly and effectively for someone who’s, you know, sitting at home and listening as opposed to being in person.

Chris Shigas
What I really liked to hear that you were talking about, about focusing on the problem. And it really forces you to be thinking more about your customer, instead of just talking about yourself that that a lot of companies fall into. You don’t want to be that boring guy at the party who just talks about himself all day, and nobody really cares, right? I would think for you on the agency side, and admittedly lots of people inside a corporation… they start drinking their own Kool-aid, and they start with their own vocabulary and their own language of how they talk about what they do. So that must be a challenge for you to get them to stop talking about themselves so much and put them in the mind of the customer. And I think what I heard you say which is really interesting is to break down some of those barriers. You start by asking questions, right instead of just being the know-it-all and tell them what to do.

Sean O’Leary
Exactly. Again, it goes back to my reporter days, the more that someone talks, the more they’re going to tell you, it seems pretty basic. But that’s sort of the first step is to figure that out. And I would say the second thing in terms of sort of like breaking through the clutter is figuring out sort of like what people are already talking about, whether it’s in the media, whether it’s in sort of the, you know, the area that you’re in, and kind of figuring out what those those news hooks are that you can kind of play off of, you know, for example, being in DC, for companies that are trying to sell to the government. It’s like what piece of policy, what legislation is out there talking about what’s related to your technology, and then that can be your problem that you talk about.

Chris Shigas
Another challenge, especially when you’re dealing with technical products or services, is finding the right audience, right. So sometimes you have a very technical type of audience, but you’ll lose the larger consumer press media. Sometimes you have messaging that is pretty high level 30,000 feet, right? What’s some of the things that go through your mind when you’re deciding on the level of technical information to provide in Tech PR?

Sean O’Leary
Yeah, I’d say I think the biggest driving factor for me is the level of technical expertise that person the spokesperson has, for example, we have one client, where when we’re talking about those big umbrella issues, that’s when I put the CEO out there. You know, that’s when I put a director out there to talk about it. But if we are talking to a more technical trade, and we have somebody, you know, if they, whether it’s AI, whether it’s automation, you know, if they can get into the nitty-gritty about it, then that’s who I want to put forward and I want to hit those trades. So that’s sort of my driving is I kind of try to build it around the spokes people because if you have a real technical spokesperson trying to talk to a broad audience, it doesn’t work, just like vice versa. A CEO talking to a very niche trade audience also might not make sense we have seen this year you know, by It’s being cut all over the place, especially with events, trade shows and those types of things. What have you seen done? Well, and the absence of those events? I mean, is there something that stood out to you and said, You know what, that client really did a good job? And if so, what did they do? Yeah, so I would say something that one of my clients has done really well, has really been the video piece. And I know we talked about this, but doing more videos and not just like little animated 30 to 60 second videos, but like, like a Q&A. So this company has sort of a chief medical officer that can kind of deal with their technology that’s aimed at the healthcare side of things. So clearly, he was going to be in demand right now. So instead of him and he has done virtual events and things, but every week, he does like a 30 to 60 second q&a, that they’re able to put up there. They’re able to share via social media. So I think that’s been pretty effective for them. And then from a media side, I’ve just seen a lot more of these like Zoom interviews with public that may not have done those before that just kind of give like a little bit more color and let people see what’s going on. So I think that’s kind of been the big thing I’ve seen is the video piece.

Brad Grantham
And to that, you know, I think we’ve seen a shift, like you just pointed out, you know, whereas 5 to 10 years ago, or even a year or two ago, it may not have been acceptable to do a Zoom video on broadcast cable, what have you, it’s not the norm. I mean, we’re recording this podcast right now via Zoom, which again, a year ago would have been unthinkable. So it’s interesting to see how that’s kind of changed.

Sean O’Leary
Yeah, I would just say the one thing I think is pretty interesting in terms of like the media prep and media training is that I’ve now had to give like media training to people about how to properly do an interview on zoom. You know, a lot of the basics are the same if you were on TV, but there are just some things are just a little bit different about doing an interview from your home office, that it kind of takes some time to getting used to.

Chris Shigas
Now from an agency perspective, and you have tech clients, I can tell you like 10 years ago, back in my agency time everybody wanted to be on the Today Show, right, or front page of The Wall Street Journal. As you see your clients coming to you now, is there a common thread of what they’re looking for what they need the assistance that they’re looking for in an agency?

Sean O’Leary
Yeah, it’s interesting, because I think from abroad abroad perspective, I think they’re all looking for the same thing. Like, you know, they want more awareness, they want to increase their thought leadership, etc. But I do think that there’s less interest in like specific outlets, because you’re right. I mean, I remember when I went over to the agency world A few years ago, and it was like, I want to be on TV, I want to be on CNN, and sort of the media landscape has changed so dramatically. I always give this example that a few years ago, we had like an older CEO who got an interview request from BuzzFeed. And at first he didn’t want to do it, because all he knew about BuzzFeed, you know, was like the listicles and the gifs. So we basically had to say like they have this many million followers, they have this many million visitors. This is the absolute perfect place for you to be in interview and they did the interview the story ran and obviously his tune changed. But I think it’s more about like, how can I reach the audience I want to reach because not only there are more outlets, but there’s sort of like more fractured outlets out there to like if you’re wanting to hit like the healthcare, you know, there are a zillion healthcare trades out there, you have to figure out which one makes the most sense for you. So I think it’s the top level goals are the same. I think how you get there, I think I have a little bit more freedom on the PR side to say this is the path you should be taking to get there, as opposed to kind of be beholden to a CEO who’s obsessed with the today show or something.

Brad Grantham
So Sean, you know, obviously, with advent of COVID-19, things have changed. And we’ve discussed that a little bit. But from your perspective, you know, how are you pitching during this time? What are the most effective pitches? How are you? How are you cutting through everything?

Sean O’Leary
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is right now just about every story that every reporter is writing right now is going to be affected by COVID in some form or fashion, whether it’s you’re talking to employees, businesses, consumers, etc. You always have to be thinking about what What the pandemic and COVID what that impact is. So if you can draw pretty much a straight line between your technology or your messaging or what you’re doing, and how it can help COVID-19 you’re going to get on the radars of reporters. And I’ll just mention one company is actually I work with is doing contact tracing. So you can just think about how important that is, and how many different angles that you can take from that. So just from that alone, there are so many questions we can answer.

Chris Shigas
Great, thank you. Here at PR Wars, we offer communication solutions for your business. Just kidding. We got to get better than that. All right, so I’m well I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sean O’Leary
Thank you so much for having me on. Appreciate it.

Chris Shigas
You can tune into a new episode of PR Wars every Sunday night at 8pm eastern. On behalf of the entire PR wars team, thank you to Brad Grantham and Sean O’Leary, Vice President at Susan Davis International. Do me a favor this week. Identify the problem that you’re product or service solves for your customer. Now go get em’.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

Leave a Reply