Business buyers don’t buy your product, they buy into your approach to solving their problems. Laura Ramos, Forrester

Just a few minutes into a PR measurement webinar I was listening to the other day, it was clear the session host was focused on selling what made her firm “the right partner” for clients, rather than on delivering knowledge or insights for her listeners. I didn’t sign up for a sales pitch, so I promptly signed off.

It’s a challenge for many spokespersons to demonstrate their expertise through thoughtful commentary without reverting to selling their services and – we’ll admit it – communications teams are often partially to blame. Our industry emphasizes the importance of establishing key brand messages and integrating them into all media opportunities.

Key brand messages are still critical; however, there is a time and place for them (e.g. when a reporter asks for an overview or update on the company). These messages are not what make someone a thought leader in the industry—or a compelling interview for reporters or readers.

Take, for example, an interview with the CEO of BarkFood, a hypothetical dog food company looking to increase its orders from pet stores, for a story on trends in consumer demand for organic dog food:

  • Reporter: Where does the demand for organic dog food come from? When did that start impacting the industry? Do you see it as a temporary or long-term shift for pet food stores to consider when making product decisions?
  • CEO: BarkFood has been using organic ingredients for more than 25 years, demonstrating our commitment to sustainability in all aspects of our products – from food to packaging. We source these organic ingredients locally…

The CEO has no intention of actually answering the reporter’s questions. When he/she could have shown the company’s value through thoughtful commentary on industry trends, the person instead chose to recite key brand messages. Not only will the reporter be less likely to see them as experts in the industry, but they also miss the opportunity to convert the 83% of global business executives influenced by compelling thought leadership in the choice of a potential business partner.

Effective spokespersons develop information, analysis and insight that will help the audience “understand its world and plan for the future,” as defined by The Economist Group. True thought leaders are valuable in their ability to speak to the needs of their audience first and, by doing so, enhance the reputation of their brand.

-Alaina Shulman

Image via Flickr