Tag Archive: 20-Second Sound Bites


“The way in which information is exchanged so quickly has forever changed the way in which people want to consume information. They demand that things be condensed into 20-second sound bites. With complex problems, this is exceedingly difficult, but to be an effective communicator and leader you need to be able to condense complex items down to the core and be able to do this quickly.” – Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister.

The Values behind Market Capitalism - Tony Blair

They say hard work never killed anybody, but I say, why take chances?” – President Ronald Reagan

The grumbling in Strategic Management class was hard to ignore.

We were being asked to synthesize our market assessments, proposed recommendations and projected timetables for major company executive management into no more than two pages. But how can complex issues with so many variables be reduced to a couple of pages? Actually it can be rendered in one page.

During the course of my career, I have witnessed on-camera media training sessions for both loggers and PhDs. Guess which one was smoother?

The problem with intelligent people is that they have to remind everyone that they are so friggin smart. And how do they do that? With a literal Blitzkrieg of facts, data, commentary and analysis with absolutely no or very little consideration for the poor sap who has to listen to their blather.

What do Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower all have in common besides being the chief executives of their respective countries? One answer is that they insisted on one-page decision-making memos.

“Reagan began a practice in Sacramento, which he carried with him to the White House, that he called ‘round-tabling,’” wrote Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute. “Reagan liked to hash out different points of view on an issue with his advisers. Reagan relied on a controversial managerial device to drive this process: the one-page memo.

“Reagan required officials and staff to boil down an issue into a one-page format with the following four elements: the issue, the facts, reasoning and recommendations. His cabinet secretary, William P. Clark Jr., helped develop the routine. ‘It has been found,’ Clark said, ‘that almost any issue can be reduced to a single page.’”

“Ronald Reagan was famous for asking for one-page summaries and today many executives follow that example,” leadership consultant John Baldoni wrote in Harvard Business Review. “It is good practice because it challenges the petitioner to reduce his idea to its barest essentials as a means of ensuring understanding as well as developing a platform for advocacy. This methodology is something that I have coached executives to ask for as well as to develop for themselves.”

Hmmm…the issue, the facts, reasoning and the recommendations. Interesting.

Let me pose this question: What is more effective? Presenting an exhaustive 70-page memo to an overly stressed executive which will be at best skimmed or a one or two pager that will be read, and maybe read two or more times?

When you are writing memos for incredibly bright, talented and supremely busy people, such as a governor or a chief executive officer, do you think they appreciate if you reduce the issue to manageable proportions and spare them the ancillary details? Will they ask questions? Of course and it doesn’t matter if you presented the issue in one or two pages or 70 pages. My recommendation is present the issue completely and succinctly in a couple of pages and be prepared to respond to the inevitable questions.

Prime Minister Blair in his quote acknowledges the obvious issues with the reduction of complex issues to 20-second sound bites and one-page memos, but that quite simply is the world that we live in.

Baldoni is justifiably concerned that this practice reduces salient issues down to bullet points, sacrificing critical points that should be considered for the sake of brevity. And didn’t your mother tell you that “Haste makes waste?” Yes she did, but really concentrating on what is legitimately important and purging trivial details is not hasty, it is efficient.

A suggestion offered by Baldoni is to consider preparing pro argument one-pager and a separate con argument one-pager. Does that mean that two pages are better than one? Maybe.

The point is that in our interactive information overloaded world, we are forced to really concentrate on what is truly important — the need-to-know as opposed to the nice-to-know – This practice, whether it be one-or-two page memos or getting to the point quickly verbally, I humbly submit is absolutely critical to being successful in the cabinet room or the board room. We as PR counselors want a seat at the table. We do not want the chief executive to stop listening before we stop talking.

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/04/avoid_over-simplifying_your_on.html

http://www.aei.org/article/20661

What’s easier, attacking or explaining?

Ever hear the old saying that allegations make news, rebuttals don’t?

Do “nuances” lend themselves to 140-bite “tweets?”

If these truths are self-evident then who has the advantage: challengers or incumbents?

This week’s Economist analyzed how politicians around the world from Venezuela to Japan and from Greece to Chile are using Twitter social media tools to get out their messages to constituents and voters. By extension this also applies to those who aim to unseat them. In fact, the insurgents may have a clear advantage. http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16056612

The trend toward quicker and faster political dialogue accelerated from radio fireside chats and televised presidential debates with the birth of “USA Today” in 1982. Fourth Estate purists ripped the new publication as “Journalism Lite” for its practice of synthesizing news down to easy-to-read-and-comprehend stories. The editors of USA Today laughed last as the format meets the needs of the populous with ever-shrinking attention spans to the tune of 1.8 million copies daily as of last March. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USA_Today.

Coupled with the introduction of “Journalism Lite” has been the growing reliance on the 20-second sound bite and the 30-second spot to move the opinions of an increasingly distracted and information-overloaded general public. This is particularly true in multiple-market, mass-media states such as California, New York, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where retail politics are not possible and not even practical.

Political purists have long denigrated reducing complex policy choices, such as health care, immigration, national security, energy, to quick 20-second earned media sound bites or the reach and repetition of paid media 30-second radio and television spots. Even with the growing reliance on digital tools including the Internet and social media neither the 20-second bite nor the 30-second spot is going away anytime soon. http://newteevee.com/2010/02/08/advertisers-look-beyond-the-30-second-tv-spot/

Now add into the mix prominent social media sites including Facebook with its 400 million viewers, Twitter, 100 million, and LinkedIn, 65 million. The Economist concluded that: “As well as boosting the profile of individual politicians, Twitter may be better designed for campaigning and opposition than for governing. ‘We’ll change Washington’ is easy to fit into 140 characters. Explaining the messy and inevitable compromises of power is a lot harder.”

The Economist noted a January study by Fleishman Hillard, a Washington PR firm, http://fleishmanhillard.com/ that discovered that Republicans in the House of Representatives twittered more than five times as often as Democrats.

And which party is the out party? The Republicans. Who is playing offense and leading the fight against incumbents? The Republicans. Who are the incumbents that are playing defense having to explain the inevitable nuances of government and policy development? The Democrats.

Of course, the direct opposite was true back in 2006 as the incumbent Republicans were back on their collective heels against determined challengers, the Democrats. Certainly, Internet organizing was a significant factor in the Democrats taking over both houses of Congress that year and Barack Obama being elected president two years later.

Considering that LinkedIn.com was established in 2003, Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, the 2010 campaign can effectively be seen as America’s first true social media electoral cycle. Whether the GOP uses these tools to their maximum advantage or whether the Democrats figure out how to employ social media to explain incumbent policies and rally their base will be analyzed in-depth following the November elections.

One thing is certain: Just as radio was harnessed to the advantage of FDR, and television for JFK and Ronald Reagan, we will soon learn who are the first big political winners of the social media age.

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