Finding the Words that Work in Tech PR

Bob Brumfeld had a great post on the Fusion Forum Blog yesterday: On Root Metaphors and Public Relations.  It ties in nicely with my last post, which made the modest proposal that we as a profession (PR in general, and tech PR specifically) should spend more time worrying about the content of our content rather than the wrappers and delivery mechanisms.

Better stories make better memes (Wikipedia definition) make ideas that get attention, catch on and spread.

As Bob explains:

From Wikipedia “A root metaphor is the underlying worldview that shapes an
individual’s understanding of a situation….” 

By figuring out the assumptions and narratives that shape any given
point of view, we can understand all manner of things about a topic,
and will be better equipped to speak about the topic, predict trends,
intertwine other narratives into the narrative that we are speaking to,
and make distinctions between topic A versus topic B.

So, root metaphors can serve as frames – generally held assumptions – that you should be aware of when communicating with people within cetain spheres.

I’ll elucidate by sharing examples from the world of politics, since ’tis the season.  If you are on the right, and closely follow politics, you have no doubt followed the work of messaging maestro Frank Luntz.

Luntz would argue that frame are not immutable, but can be tinkered with based on the message you are trying to get across.

Luntz is a master at finding the Words that Work, and indeed that is the name of his recent book; here is an excerpt from the a description of this book on the Hyperion website:

is hard to think of any other political consultant in America who has
coined as many effective slogans as Luntz. Some, such as his branding
of the estate, or inheritance, tax as the "death tax", have remoulded
conventional wisdom with devastating effect on their principally
Democratic defenders.

"Others have crept
into common usage less dramatically but just as effectively. Take
"exploring for energy" instead of "drilling for oil", "tax relief" in
place of "tax cuts", or "not giving" emergency hospital care to
"illegal aliens" instead of "denying" it to "undocumented workers".
Words, or rather the slicing and dicing of them to fashion our
subliminal responses, do work…

Lest we think that this approach is the sole province of the right, you should know that the Democrats have their messaging master counterpart in George Lakoff, author of the book "Don’t think of an Elephant."

Many would dismiss such tactics as spin and deception.  Others would that it just amounts to shrewd use of language and ideas to get your point across.

Regardless of your politics, or the potential ethical implications, I share this information only to point out the power of words, story frames and root metaphors in communicating ideas.

And now I’ll bring the post back to something without life or death implications: tech PR.

What do story frames and root metaphors have to do with communicating about technology?  How do you find the words that work when it comes to highly complex subject matter and targeted business and IT audiences?

Bob touches on some of this in his post, and I will be spending more time on the topic on this blog in the coming days.

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2 Responses to Finding the Words that Work in Tech PR

  1. Robert Brumfield says:

    One of my favorite series of assumptions that’s been playing out in the political arena as of late is the Hope v. Experience debate–both being artfully manipulated by both sides under the larger subject heading of “Change.”
    So, does Experience=the same old machinations of the same old politicians fighting the same old battles or does it mean that she has the knowledge and connections to affect substantial Change in Washington? Does Hope=a lot of well-spun rhetoric designed to pump up a green resume or does it mean he’s a new player who’s able to look over the partisan and really cooperate with others to make Change happen in a way that we haven’t seen in at least a generation?
    There are daily salvos that weaken or strengthen the underlying assumptions from which each politician is building her or his candidacy and the effectiveness of each narrative is demonstrated in the tight, tense race the Dems are running.
    One of the amazing things about political communications in general, I think, is that it is basically crisis communications churning endlessly. To some people, this is mind-bendingly frustrating; but it’s an edge-of-seat and thoroughly exhilarating process for those of us who’ve been drinking the water in DC for perhaps longer than we care to admit.
    I know you asked your readers to address this issue from the point of view of tech PR, but, as you said, ’tis the season 🙂

  2. Bob Geller says:

    Thanks for your comment, as exciting as the political game sounds, are any of these people ever actually having fun? I’ll stick with the comparatively more staid world of tech and tech, PR thank you.
    (The irony is that for all the money, planning and shrewd gamesmanship that goes into politics, it always seems blindingly obvious in retrospect why the train went off the tracks – I guess it is like handicapping the economy, no one can predict it but we all have 20-20 hindsight).

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