Before I worked in PR, I don’t think I ever considered “talking points.”
Sure, when I interviewed newsmakers as a reporter, I knew they were prepared, if not scripted. When selecting soundbites as a producer, I though tried to pick those that were the most illuminating and least canned (unless they were just too irresistibly memorable).
I remember one of my first assignments in PR was writing a set of bullet points to prepare a corporate spokesperson (aka talking points) to answer questions on behalf of the company in a news interview. I learned quickly how it works.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and some change and talking points are all around us. Actually, it didn’t take that long. 20 years ago, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly started his nightly show with a “Talking Points Memo” segment that featured, with graphics, the key parts of his opinions he wanted his audience to remember and carry forth. Many other radio and TV hosts did the same thing, although less overtly. So many political analysts have gone on the air to talk about talking points, that the term has gone mainstream, even by those who don’t realize they are under the spell of talking points. This reaches from politics, where every argument on Facebook seems predictable, to sports, with fans sitting at games reciting the three or so narratives that talk radio hosts use in every quarter hour to make the phones ring.
Now, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a big talking point for the “vaccine hesitant” off the table. After the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19 vaccines more than 8 months ago, a single talking point began to dominate. The fact that “it’s not fully approved” gave license for millions not to take shots, never mind the world-leading rigor that led to the Emergency approval (in an actual emergency). The FDA’s granting, at least the Pfizer vaccine, “full” approval means that will no longer be an out.
What comes next will be a fascinating communications case study. How quickly will a new meme appear that will catch hold, scripting those who still won’t take the shot and allowing them to cling to a new talking point? Or will this cause a significant fraction to do what they have promised to do and finally get vaccinated?
Like everything else in communications now, this will happen quickly, creating new talking points, for and against, that could not have been imagined when such a communications tool was used just to prep politicians and corporate spokespeople.