The Critical Path is a six-step process for determining what to say – and how to say it –
in media interviews.
The six steps are:
1. Identify the specific organizational objectives you want the interview to
2. Identify and analyze the key publics to be reached through the interview and the
messages you want to convey.
3. Identify the topics the reporter may raise.
4. Create several speaking points (key points) on each topic.
5. Prepare a detailed Q&A.
6. Practice in mock interviews.
The Critical Path – Step 2
A “key public” is any group of people that shares a similar perceived self-interest (that is, a common set of goals and objectives) with respect to any given issue or development. The strategic objective of communications, in general, and of any given media interview, in particular, is to persuade key publics to act in ways that will advance your organization’s goals and objectives.
With this in mind, I divide key publics into two broad tiers.
The top tier consists of publics whose actions contributes directly to one or more objectives. A political party wants your vote so it can form the next government. A public company wants individual and institutional investors to buy into its public offering so that it will have the necessary capital for an expansion program. A university wants graduates to donate money to its various endowments so it can meet funding targets. As a voter, investor or university graduate your actions will contribute directly to the attainment of a specific objective of the political party, public company or university.
The second tier consists of people whose actions do not contribute directly to the attainment of an organization’s goals and objectives, but they influence people whose actions do. The ongoing and complex process by which top-tier publics formulate the perceptions, attitudes and predispositions that result in action involves the entire array of an individual’s life experience. Because that experience includes ongoing interactions with family, friends, colleagues and role models, gaining the support of second-tier publics plays a significant role in preparing for and giving media interviews.
Once you have identified your organization’s goals and objectives (Step 1 of The Critical Path) your next task is to figure out what other people must do for them to be attained. For example, if you want to increase sales by 10 per cent, you’ll need to attract new buyers, get existing buyers to buy more or a combination of the two. If your organization wants to increase productivity by 5 per cent, you’ll have to get your workforce to work smarter or introduce new equipment and technology, or a combination of both. And this, in turn, may necessitate hiring more skilled engineers to develop the improved manufacturing processes . . . and so forth. You then place these “other people” in groups according to their perceived self-interest. These groups are your key publics. The reason for this is straightforward: People are generally motivated by self-interest – or at least by how they perceive their self-interest.
Effective communications are therefore based upon an accurate understanding of the perceptions, attitudes and predispositions of the organization’s various key publics. The process of developing that understanding may be informal and anecdotal involving, for example, direct contact with individual members of your key publics, observing what they say or do, reviewing what others say about them and applying your own intuitive sense of what motivates the people you want to influence. Or the process may rely on formal research, such as using focus groups or conducting public opinion polls. Or it may consist of a combination of both formal and informal research.
To be effective communications tools, the perceptions, attitudes and predispositions that you discovered about your publics must meet two criteria:
• They are an accurate reflection of reality.
• They will result in behaviour that will bring an organization and its key publics closer to the attainment of their respective goals and objectives.
When these two criteria are met, your communications efforts will focus on reinforcing existing perceptions, attitudes and predispositions. But if either of the two criteria is not met, your communications will, at least in the long term, be counterproductive, either because you will be encouraging people to act on false premises and thus inadvertently against their own true self-interest, or because you will entice people to act in ways that will undermine your organization’s true self-interest.
If the first criterion is not met, your communications activities will assume the added challenge of instilling accurate attitudes and perceptions that will predispose your key publics to act in ways that will truly benefit them.
If the second criterion is not met (that is, you will not attain your organizational goals and objectives if you key publics act in accordance with their enlightened self-interest), it may be necessary to revise your goals and objectives or change how the organization, itself, acts.
The perceptions, attitudes and predispositions that you want to reinforce to instill in your key publics, in effect, constitute your brand attributes and will shape your key messages; for example, that your organization is a good corporate citizen, a great place to work, a leader in its field and a great investment. Such messages might be stated in your various communications, but as is equally if not more effective, they might be conveyed without being overtly articulated.