While journalists are often scorned for taking press releases and interviews out of context, a study by Burson-Marsteller (BM) has found that this miscommunication is possibly a result of the language used by brands and organisations when addressing the media and the public.

The international study, titled The Message Gap Analysis, found that there is a 74% disparity between the key messages that Australian companies want to convey and the messages that are ultimately coming through in the media. This percentage is also significantly higher than the global average, where the gap stands at 48%.

Studying 137 corporate messages released by six Australian companies chosen from the Financial Times 500 and the ASX, the research compared the companies’ external communications against related coverage from mainstream media and found that distributed corporate communication do not get through accurately to media outlets.

According to Brian West, BM Australia’s managing director: “No matter how earnest, or how well written, corporate messages aren’t simply going to be replicated”.

“The media does not report on what a company is committed to doing; only what they have done and are currently doing – actions speak louder than words.”

Analysing media coverage over a three-month period, the study picked up on messages and brand attributes that appeal most to journalists. West advises that brand managers “need to take a strategic approach to their communication…that means having a clear understanding of the changing media landscape, how messages are reported, and a commitment to adapt to what’s required to ensure their desired messages get through”.

West, speaking to Marketing says: “Companies use management-speak or aspirational language, without reference to the values or perceptions of the audience they want to communicate with.  Furthermore, companies do not view the communication through the eyes and ears of their target audiences; they do not seek to understand the ‘incentive’ which would drive an audience to listen to the message.  Lastly Australian companies have been slow to openly embrace social media, which is pure two-way communication, and therefore enter a dialogue with its audiences”.

West also believes that in order for the right messages to get channeled across media platforms, brand managers must note the following:

  1. “Aspirational” language needs to be backed up by concrete facts, or it is likely to be ignored. Messages that relate to a company’s core values and identity tend to get more media pick-up.
  2. Now more than ever CEO’s are under intense media scrutiny. Companies that successfully align their CEO’s interviews, quotes and actions with the firm’s key messages stand a better chance of getting them into the media.
  3. Mainstream media and bloggers tend to change or completely ignore jargon. To increase message fidelity, companies should make their communications as accessible as possible by leaving out corporate speak.
  4. The Australian media regularly talks about companies in relation to their competition. Incorporating differentiators into key messages can help firms stand out.
  5. Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives are increasingly only covered by the media if they are current. Firms need to back up their CSR promises with facts to ensure they get traction.

West advises: “Companies need to align their values and objectives to their audiences and understand what will motivate those audiences to actually want to receive and understand the message being sent. 

“They must use simple and understandable language and not get caught up in their own jargon or the latest theories.".

"Companies also need to embrace social media and this is not advertising or virals.  Too many companies are broadcasting content and not listening to their audiences and then engaging with them.  Nor is there always an understanding of the difference between the mediums and their purpose, like Facebook and Twitter.  Companies need to think strategically about their business and communication objectives and use the right social medium for the appropriate purpose”.