Pick the Medium, then Shape the Message

Tailoring Your Message to the Medium

A few weeks ago, National Public Radio gave its standout comedy quiz show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” a shot at the big-time: a Friday night slot on BBC America television. I’m a huge fan of the Saturday morning show, now in its 14th year, which features a recap of the week’s news parceled into clever segments delivered by witty host, Peter Sagal, and quick-thinking celebrities like Paula Poundstone and Tom Bodett of Motel 6 fame (“we’ll leave the lights on”).

But about 15 minutes into the TV version, I wanted the lights to go off. It was basically the same format, but it just didn’t work. It wasn’t just seeing how un-telegenic the “stars” were or having needless photos flash before us. The problem was more that it just didn’t suit the medium. They had kind of boasted that nothing would be different from the show you love on radio, but that was the point. It should have been different.

Tailoring your message to the medium can be a critical skill to learn. And now that there are so many mediums—TV, radio, print, Twitter, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.—it has become even more difficult and important to get right. Why has Twitter become so popular? Probably because at 140 characters, you can tweet in a flash. But good writers will tell you that being effective in a short post may be harder than a long one. If you have a study or new product to promote, best to choose your characters carefully.

An old friend of mine, Dan Daly, a sports columnist for The Washington Times, excels at Twitter. Last night, during the one-sided college football championship game between winner Alabama and LSU (and Coach Les Miles), Daly tweeted, “Miles — That’s how far the yardsticks seemed apart when LSU had the ball.” It was perfect for the medium—short, clever and timely. Another good tweet I saw came from the Talent Zoo and read: “How many of you…’pin’? Is Pinterest the next big social media thing?” This got me curious, and I found that Pinterest received nearly 11 million visits in the week that ended Dec. 17! That makes it the No. 10 social site (according to Hitwise).

When I google “right message for the medium,” I get responses about finding the right medium for your message. But in this age of repurposing, it would seem that shaping the message for the medium would count more. You basically know the audiences that each medium will bring, so it’s up to you to tailor your information for those people. Wrote Kurt Lorenz on the site Zillner.com, “…[the message and the medium] have to work together to create a message that resonates with the target audience, delivered to them in a manner that reaches through the clutter and creates the best chance of being received.”

Take our new SIPAwards program. For Hotline newsletter, I’ll craft an article about the importance of awards to the people who win them and their customers and bosses; for this space, I may profile a few winners; for LinkedIn, I’ll start a discussion on the new categories; on our website, it would be great to post a short video interview with a past winner; and on Twitter I’ll try to be clever in giving weekly promotions.

A blog post on Moneywelove.com makes another good point. We need to back up our messages with action. In other words, SIPAwards better be good. “It’s not enough to tailor a message to your audience, then craft and polish and distribute that message. That message includes a promise, and your audience will expect follow-through on that promise. Your job as a business owner or manager is to give the audience what you promised. And that’s how you truly make your message shine through, because that message has become part of your business and your business must reflect that.”

Meanwhile, I haven’t seen any more BBCA promos for “Wait Wait.” But they have posted more interesting photos on their website. Just sayin’.


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