Getting the CEO to Agree to Media Training—Part II (CEO in a Fishbowl)
Editor’s Note: Read Part I of this series, “Getting the CEO to Agree to Media Training”.
By Virgil Scudder, President, Virgil Scudder & Associates
Today’s CEO lives in a fishbowl. Any ill-considered statement, or any inappropriate action, can quickly go viral and end up depressing the company’s stock, hurting employee morale, or damaging a company’s reputation. This is the age of citizen journalism and ambush by smart phone. For a leader of a company, or of any other type of organization, there is generally no place to hide. These days the camera is always on.
Media training today is broadly defined. It long ago moved past the stage of being simply preparing someone for television appearances or print interviews. It now includes preparation for investor meetings, speeches and presentations, on-line interviews, and even one-on-one meetings with key constituents such as government officials. It involves careful message development, identifying and preparing responses for all tough issues and questions, and even body language.
Irene Rosenfeld, the brilliant CEO who turned around an under-performing Kraft Foods, put it this way:
“As the “face” of my company, my words are carefully scrutinized every time I speak, and they often live in perpetuity in cyberspace. But it’s not only what I say that matters; it’s also how I say it. A hesitation, a wrong tone, or even an unconscious gesture on my part can affect our stock price.”
As Ms. Rosenfeld’s remarks indicate, people make judgments and decisions not only on words spoken but also on perceptions. And, until an executive is put on camera, that person rarely has a good “handle” on the perception he or she is conveying.
If such training is so important, why do many CEOs refuse to engage in it? Here are some of the reasons and excuses commonly heard.
- I don’t need it. I know my business and how to explain it.
- I did it ten years ago.
- There is no single question that I can’t answer or dodge.
- Media interviews are an ego trip I don’t want or need.
Let’s address these points one-by-one starting with the first one and offer an appropriate response.
I don’t need it. Remember this basic fact: communication is not what the speaker knows or says; it’s what the listener(s) takes away. Knowledge is the foundation of effective communication, not the end product, just as education is what the student learns, not what the teacher knows. So the fact that the leader knows the business doesn’t mean that anyone else will know anything more about it when he or she finishes speaking.
Most important, CEOs have a hidden handicap in that they know so much about their business that they have difficulty explaining the essence of it in a few words. This narrowing process is part of what media training accomplishes.
I did it ten years ago. Media training involves learning and practicing a skill set. If you haven’t visited your golf pro in ten years, you’ve probably retained little of the benefit you initially got from it. The same is true of media skills.
There is no single question that I can’t answer or dodge. A good media interview is not about answering or dodging questions. It’s about telling a story—a memorable and convincing story about your organization. This requires practice and rehearsal.
Media interviews are an ego trip I don’t want or need. Whether the boss likes it or not, he or she is the face of the company and its prime voice. A certain amount of “going public” is part of the job.
If these arguments fail, it’s often necessary to resort to a little subterfuge to achieve this necessary goal of getting the leader to sign on for media training. Don’t call it media training; call it message refining or testing or bill it as sampling a media training program to see if lower level executives should take it. It’s amazing how often I’ve seen these little moral deceptions work.
Whatever method the PR professional uses, this much is clear: every executive needs media training these days. There is no CEO exemption when great benefit can be gained when a CEO speaks effectively and the price of a mis-statement is so high.
Published: October 10, 2012 By: