Monday, June 21, 2010

On Authenticity

It started sometime around 1985.

Video had firmly supplanted film, and internal corporate videos were suddenly easy to make (well, if you consider U-matic easy). Corporate executives, spokespeople and PR-folks had to learn to craft the things quickly.

Naturally they leaned on their long-standing ‘external’ instincts, meaning, how to deal with the news media. Craft the bullet points, memorize them, stick to the script on camera.

Fast forward to now. In the short story “Appetite” by Said Sayrafiezadeh, the protagonist is watching a public affairs campaign on TV. He smirks: “The very fact that everyone managed to pronounce the phrase without stumbling once was evidence that the whole man-on-the-street conceit was fraudulent.”

In other words, give us some um’s and uh’s and be a real person. Everyone can make video now. The walls have been torn down. The only thing that works is authenticity.

How do you get there? For internal messaging, the onus falls on the interviewer, not the interviewee. The person in the hot seat (cameras get smaller, but lights are still hot) needs an empathetic questioner who’s well prepared, holds eye contact, and asks questions based on the conversation, not the bullets.

And please, no ganging up. I recently did a shoot with five PR people in the room, leering over the shoulder of the interviewer. The nice lady on camera had no idea where to look.

Get rid of the distractions and focus on discourse, and you have a comfortable, open person talking easily about the things they talk about every day.