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Meeting the American Audience

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 23, 2012 11:30 AM

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Last week I was asked to participate in a panel for a group of European companies looking to do business in Boston. I followed the lawyers, accountants, and bankers with a short presentation on what organizations need to know about communications and media before they move into the American market. Almost all the questions I got were about mistakes I’ve seen other companies or individuals make, all of which fall into three categories.

Flying below the radar: As I learned from the above mentioned lawyers, accountants, and bankers when you’re expanding your business into a new market there is a lot to do and it can be very tempting to put the media strategy on the back burner. Resist temptation! If there is only one piece of advice I could give everyone it’s this: you want to initiate contact with the media on your terms. It goes without saying; you never want to be introducing yourself for the first time in the middle of a crisis. The American media is a giant, highly segmented industry. Chances are very good that there is some publication somewhere that covers some part of your value chain and they will become aware of your entry into the market. You not only want to be prepared for contact with these reporters, but actually to be proactive in developing a strategy to reach out to them that aligns with the overall marketing goals of your organizations.

Initiating a media strategy is not necessarily about the coverage you will get. It is about discovering and introducing yourself to the journalists who can provide a conduit to your new stakeholders be it potential customers, employees, or regulators either now or in the future.

The value of entertainment: Years ago I produced a celebrity gossip segment for a news show. The program covered politics, policy, and even some limited world affairs but we always finished with a little bit of tabloid trash. I was constantly being asked why we included headlines more appropriate for Star Magazine than The Washington Post, the answer was simple: people watched.

As a general rule, Americans prefer entertainment to education. While public broadcasting still dominates journalism in most countries, news programs in the U.S. must fight for slots with both reality and scripted entertainment shows. You may have a really important story to tell but sometimes you need to go that extra mile and explain to a journalist why it’s also both an entertaining and relevant story to the desired viewers or readers. Even if you’re looking to tell your story directly to potential investors or partners, you need to remember American audiences are used to highly produced presentations that focus on them. We prefer stories and examples which present content in an emotional setting rather than facts and figures we may need to interpret. We’re an individualistic society so you’ve got to develop messages which make the specific benefits of your proposal very clear. To sum it up: entertain me while you tell me why this is good for me!

Overthinking the context: America is a low context culture. We appreciate a presentation that gets to the point. Reporters want to publish as quickly as possible. Something isn’t a problem unless you’ve already got a solution. Americans don’t necessarily want to understand what went wrong; they just want to know what you’re going to do in the future to fix it. Americans prefer the future to the past, arguably because we aren’t the best students of history. We also appreciate brevity and simplicity. A reporter wants to know how you can help them today, not listen to the entire history of your company. In general, what we say is exactly what we mean so don’t overthink your communications just put the same time and attention into developing as you would any other area of your business.

Kellyanne Dignan designs and leads the media, public speaking and presentation training programs for Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications clients. Prior to joining Rasky Baerlein, Dignan worked in broadcast and digital communications producing content for major media outlets. She can be reached at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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