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5 key principles of great communication

5 key principles to ensure great communication with journalists

In this week’s blog, we identify 5 essential skills to remember when communicating with the media.

These key principles form the cornerstones of the Pink elephant Communications Communication skills training‘.

From one extreme to another

Hugh Grant, Five Principles of Communicating with Media

Nick Clegg MP and Hugh Grant

A six-figure compensation settlement.

That’s the cost of hacking actor Hugh Grant’s phone.

That – and the illegality of the act – may deter The Mirror Group from doing it in the future.

But the case has an unwelcome side effect – the further erosion of trust in journalism.

Having watched The Post this week, I savoured the other end of the journalistic spectrum.

The Washington Post stood up to a corrupt President – Richard Nixon – and published a damaging report.

It exposed the hypocritical stance of previous presidents and administrations over the Vietnam War.

A war, it’s alleged, they knew they were destined to lose.

The very existence of the Washington Post was on the line if the Supreme Court ruled against them.

But the courage shown by the editor and owner in the early ’70s meant they were then able to expose Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate break-in shortly after.

Leading to the removal of The President from office.

Normally, journalism involves simpler elements than phone hacking or the Vietnam War.

It’s a means of telling a story.

And it could be the story of your business, organisation or campaign.

That’s why, at Pink Elephant Communications, we encourage our clients to engage with journalists and tell their story with enthusiasm.

The 3 things that hold people back when communicating

  1. Fear of making mistakes
  2. Fear of misrepresentation
  3. Fear of looking stupid

The best way of avoiding mistakes is to be well-prepared.

communication skills training with journalists loud hailer boy.

The 5 key principles of great communication

Whether in courses run at our Glasgow studios or on the road, across the world, we offer five key principles to ensure great communication with journalists:

  1. Build a pyramid of communication, starting with the point.

communication skills training with journalists pyramid of communication.

We need to know what’s of greatest interest…to those reading, listening or watching.

So know your audience.

Next, write down your key points.

Start with your opening point, at the top of the pyramid, with what’s in it for the audience.

Work your way down the points in order of importance.

Finish with a Call to Action, telling the audience what they need to do next.

That all adds up to a Pyramid of Communication, prioritising your key points according to the audience of the day

  1. Turn Jargon into pictures. 

communication skills training with journalists jargon cartoon.People need to “see” what you’re talking about.

But if you talk in generalities or abstract concepts, they’ll see the wrong image.

David Attenborough’s picture of a seal with its neck stuck in a ring of plastic has much more impact than the discussion of “maritime pollution”.

We have to follow that lead and give clear examples and case studies to make our point to journalists.

Now the journalist – and his/her audience – can “see” what we’re talking about.

  1. Avoid Watering Down Words

“Do not tell me you will try”,

said Winston Churchill.

“Tell me that it is done.”

Again through fear of failure, people often water down their message with words like relatively, reasonably, think, hope and do our best.

Whereas people with high levels of communications skills use words of commitment.

“I’m determined…”

“We’re committed…”

“I firmly believe..”

“It’s our clear goal…”

We have to use committed language with the media in explaining our case.

  1. Drop the Pink Elephant

A Pink Elephant means a clear and unnecessary negative.

“I’m not a quitter,”

Prime Minister said in China last week…soon after President Donald Trump had said:

“I’m not a racist.”

But we’re left thinking only of a quitter and a racist.

We have to tell journalists what we are rather than what we’re not.

What we do believe in rather than what we don’t.

 In other words – paint a positive picture rather than a negative one.

  1. Give a Direct Answer to a Direct Question

 communication skills training with journalists audience.

Journalists ask questions for a living.

We need to give them direct answers.

Evasiveness confuses the journalist and the audience, rather like jargon does, so we’re left to make up our own mind.

So we need to answer yes, no, I don’t know or it’s too early to say…and then build a strong answer, taking it to one of our key messages, prepared for the Pyramid of Communication.

Some politicians ignore the questions and go straight to their prepared answers.

They simply annoy the audience who appreciate certainty.

The results of great communication skills

Following these five clear principles give us the best possibility of correct interpretation rather than a misinterpretation.

If we achieve that, we will be confident of good results…rather than looking stupid over what we’ve said.

In other words, we will have removed all the fears we have about dealing with the media.

For more than 40 years, I’ve plugged into the media to promote businesses, explain situations, raise money for good causes and fight injustices.

Having done business in countries where the media is anything but free, I appreciate a free media in this country and the opportunity it provides to give us our say.

If you want any advice on taking your opportunity with the media, contact us.


Bill McFarlan is Executive Chairman of Glasgow media training and presentation skills firm, Pink Elephant Communications.

You can view his full profile here.


Photo’s by Tripsavy // the Guardian // //

6th February 2018 Featured in: Blog, Media training blogs By:

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