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Fifty Shades of Soundbite

Fifty Shades of Soundbite

The Rolling Stones last week celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first live performance by appearing at Somerset House in London to launch an exhibition displaying some of the group’s most iconic photos.

While the legendary Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have shared the writing duties for some of rock’s most legendary numbers, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and, “Honky Tonk Woman” to name but a few, it’s the pale, languid Richards that is usually pursued by the media for the best soundbite.

Richards, once described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” speaks like he lives. “It’s amazing – most of these pictures I think, ‘where was the cameraman?’ I don’t remember them being there,” he said at the exhibition’s launch. He did admit to having certain regrets: “I wouldn’t have taken certain things if I’d known what I’d have to do to get off of it.” Media coverage and ticket sales have taken off as the crowds flock to catch a slice of rock and roll history.

While the Stones were continuing to strut their stuff at a gallery next to the River Thames, another Londoner hero, Bradley Wiggins, has been carrying all before him in the world’s toughest bike race, the Tour de France. By virtue of being the race leader he is obliged to attend a daily press conference and the results have been box office material compared to the normal dull analysis from the leader of the peloton. To illustrate, one of his colourful and forthright statement has included: “I’m not some s— rider who has just come from nowhere. I didn’t lose my cool on Sunday, I just said what I think. It’s completely different. If I’d lost my cool, this table would’ve been on the floor down there.” His Sky bosses must have been envious of his forthright approach given the generous portions of humble pie that they had to consume at the Leveson inquiry.

In the fast expanding media world choosing the right soundbite is a vital ingredient of any interview. Journalists need to bring colour to their stories and bland corporate speak is unlikely to please their editors competing for digital page views, the new holy grail of editorial success.

One of a journalist’s pet hates are the dull and boring comments people include in appointment press releases. All too often they begin, “I am delighted that John Smith is joining our executive team. John brings a wealth of experience….” and so it goes on. Wouldn’t it be better to offer some more meaningful material such as, “I have known John Smith for over 10 years and he is a great operator. He combines a sense of humour with an impressive ability to motivate his colleagues and excite his clients. We expect that he will bring some added flair to our business.”

Conveying something meaningful in a few words can be difficult. If you are stuck for ideas take a look at the quotes that have appeared national newspapers, magazines, and websites. Keep an ear out for soundbites as you have conversations in your office, what are intended as throwaway comments during office banter often contain a gem worth saving.

Richard Branson, no stranger to self publicity, is a master of the media soundbite. When launching Virgin’s new in-flight casinos and beds for the Airbus A380 his comment, “With casinos and private double beds on board, customers will have two chances to get lucky”, was an immediate media hit.

It’s always worth thinking up a few strong comments in advance of the interview. Trying to spontaneously come up with a fantastic comment is never easy and if you don’t own the company, like Richard Branson, you need to ensure that nobody can be offended.

Make your comments strong and clear to understand.  Invariably metaphors or mayhem descriptions  will help bring colour to your words and grab the journalist’s attention. Also everyday words and short sentences help get your message across. But above all, make it memorable!

A master of the memorable is journalist Jenny Colgan.  Writing in The Guardian about E.L. James’ blockbuster novel ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, she said   “It is jolly, eminently readable and as sweet and safe as BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) erotica can be without contravening the trade descriptions act.” Almost as good as Keith Richards in his prime.

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