Between Two Ferns, Kid Reporters and Making Your Message Matter

White-House 2

There are several basic communications principles that are critical to ensuring your message is heard.  One is “know your audience.”  Another – my personal favorite – is to “make your message relevant.”  Said another way, make sure what you are saying matters to your audience.  If it doesn’t matter, they won’t hear it.  If they don’t hear it, you’ve simply wasted your time.

Making messages matter – finding the relevance of an issue to an audience – is actually my first rule of communications because it is about defining a point of connectivity for the listener, viewer or reader.  This is of the utmost importance in our business of public affairs and political communications, as we are often calling upon a group with some point of commonality to take action.  Broad political campaigns allow the audience to identify with the part of a message that matters to them.  However, we all know that there are narrowcast, issue-based messages that are meant to educate, motivate and mobilize a specific audience.

Enter President Obama on the set of Zach Galifianakis’ tongue-in-cheek web talk show, “Between Two Ferns,” that originally aired March 11.  The BTF shows regularly pull more than a million viewers online with the likes of Ben Stiller, Sean Penn and Natalie Portman appearing as guests.  The Portman interview alone pulled more than 16 million viewers.

Let’s look at the rationale for doing the show by circling back to our principles about audience and relevance.  With the clock ticking on the deadline for those without health insurance to purchase  insurance through the healthcare.gov website, and a real need to attract the attention of young people, President Obama and his team made the calculated, and yes, risky move to have him appear on the edgy satirical program.

This is actually the very type of ‘He did what?’ move the Obama team was known for during his presidential campaigns.  While sometimes there are  folks who aren’t in the target audience scratching their heads, the efforts are usually very effective with the primary audience. It is no surprise that this episode of BTF was one of the most widely watched episodes in FunnyorDie.com’s history (nearly 20 million views as of this writing), and within 24 hours the healthcare.gov website received a 40 percent jump in traffic.

So was the appearance a success?  Only time will tell.  However, this is a great example of knowing your audience and delivering a message in a way that they will actually hear it.

I also have a “little” personal experience with unorthodox White House interviews.  During my time as a member of the White House communications team for President Obama, we coordinated an interview with the president and reporter Damon Weaver, an 11-year-old student from Canal Point Elementary School in Florida.  President Obama had been in office less than eight months, and “real” reporters were still clamoring for interviews.

Why do the interview? The White House wanted to promote its new education proposal at the beginning of the school year and deliver a message from the president directly to students in a way that would grab attention outside the normal media channels and put a fresh face on education issues.  Neither the interview nor the address was without controversy, but these instances demonstrate the importance of finding new avenues to deliver messages in a way that connects with audiences.

Was the president accused of only doing soft interviews? Unfortunately, yes.  However, was the effort successful and worthwhile overall?  Absolutely.  The White House wanted to reach parents and, even more directly, women as well as young students.  The numbers we saw later, including more than 700,000 views on YouTube, reflect that the effort worked. We also garnered hundreds of earned traditional and social media hits, including Damon being interviewed by CNN on the White House lawn.

Sometimes we need to come out of our comfort zone to reach an audience where they live in an impactful way with messages that matter. Some may call it bold.  For those who know this business well, we simply call it common sense.

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Between Two Ferns, Kid Reporters and Making Your Message Matter

White-House 2

There are several basic communications principles that are critical to ensuring your message is heard.  One is “know your audience.”  Another – my personal favorite – is to “make your message relevant.”  Said another way, make sure what you are saying matters to your audience.  If it doesn’t matter, they won’t hear it.  If they don’t hear it, you’ve simply wasted your time.
Making messages matter – finding the relevance of an issue to an audience – is actually my first rule of communications because it is about defining a point of connectivity for the listener, viewer or reader.  This is of the utmost importance in our business of public affairs and political communications, as we are often calling upon a …

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