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“The Gunny” and the Art of Bridging

"The Gunny" on set for WD-40 at the U.S.S. Midway Museum
The Gunny R Lee Ermey on the deck of the USS Midway Museum

Many people think a spokesperson’s job is to be well informed on a topic and be able to talk a lot about it. The truth is, a good spokesperson should know a lot about what the reporter is looking for and can talk concisely on a topic. While media reporters play a critical role in raising public awareness, media outlets also need to “sell” the story, meaning journalists often highlight the most sensational parts. Journalists are also under tight deadlines, so the window of opportunity to get your message out can be small. A spokesperson’s job is to keep what he/she is saying simple so audiences can absorb and remember it, and to make sure he/she touches on key messages.

NST recently worked with retired drill instructor “The Gunny” R. Lee Ermey, of “Full Metal Jacket” fame and more recently featured in those hilarious Geico commercials, for a WD-40 Company satellite media tour.  Not only did we provide him with a briefing book and key messages, but we also sat down with him to discuss what media outlets were looking for and make sure he was comfortable talking about the program in simple terms.  This involved 1) writing down the key messages in priority order (you’d be surprised how many people think they can just “wing it”) and 2) practicing responses to questions likely to be asked (you’ll be glad you did this once the cameras are rolling.)

What we learned is Gunny was great at a technique called bridging – answering a reporter’s question, and then focusing on the most critical information he wanted to get across. When anchors asked about his acting career in interviews – not anything related to the WD-40 promotion – he would quickly respond to their question with an appropriate response and then say something like, “But enough about me, let’s talk about why we’re here today” or “You can work hard too by opening up your laptop and going to the website.”  Now, chances are you or your spokesperson aren’t former drill instructors for the U.S. Marine Corps, so dictating the conversation might be a little more difficult.  But there are certain terms you can use to focus people in on your key messages, such as “It’s important to remember…” or “That’s significant, but what’s most important is…”  These transitions will help you easily shift from the subject being talked about to one of your key messages.

There are plenty more tips to share here, but always remember to keep interviews positive and make conversations appear as natural as possible.  Of course, that’s easier said than done, but if you’d like more advice on media training, let us know – we’d be happy to help.

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