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When Communicating, Start With ‘Why’

A while ago, my brother gave me the book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. While not a public relations book, I began thinking about its concepts from a public relations perspective. All clients have information and stories they want to share. “Let’s distribute a press release,” they say. Too often though, those press releases begin with the wrong message and clients miss out on opportunities for their audiences to buy in and support their message. Instead of starting with what is important to their audiences, clients oftentimes want to start with what is important to them.

I recently came across a press release that announced a large monetary investment into Belk department stores’ technology (excerpt below).

CHARLOTTE, N.C., November 19, 2010 – Belk, Inc. has announced a major overhaul of its information technology (IT) infrastructure, which began earlier this year, as part of a three-year, $150 million initiative designed to transform the company’s business capabilities and performance. 

The initiative will focus on systems that support the company’s merchandise planning and replenishment, store point-of-sale and e-commerce functions, and approximately 75 IT positions are expected to be added at the Belk corporate office in Charlotte this year and next year. This is in addition to the 39 merchandising positions previously announced.

In this economy, this message would have been much stronger had the press release started with “Belk Adds 75 New IT Positions with $150 Million Initiative.” Instead, you have to get to the second paragraph to learn what most people would value. Who cares that Belk is announcing an overhaul? What does it even mean to “transform the company’s business capabilities and performance”? The whole first paragraph is a waste. And, unfortunately for Belk, many people don’t have time to continue reading if they aren’t “grabbed” in the first paragraph.

All communications would be much stronger if they started by answering:

1. Why does it matter?
2. Why would/should anyone care?

When communicating on behalf of my clients—whether via media relations, social media, or other channels—I start by answering ‘why’.

Do you ask these questions before you communicate? What other tips do you have to help people communicate more effectively?

About Jocelyn Broder

Jocelyn Broder is vice president at Robin Tracy Public Relations. She has managed the communications efforts of one of the world’s most recognized brands–Coca-Cola–and launched turn-key communications initiatives for some of the world’s most respected ministries, non-profit organizations, authors, and publishers (including two book campaigns that made all four national best-seller lists). Before finding her love for PR, Jocelyn was a writer at The Oregonian, a top 25 newspaper.

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