Getting the CEO to Agree to Media Training—Part I
By Virgil Scudder, President, Virgil Scudder & Associates
Fortunately, such CEOs seem to be in the minority these days. Most corporate heads have come to realize the value of this training and to take advantage of what it has to offer. Some, however, tend to dismiss it as not worth their time or not necessary for them. Many feel it’s beneath their dignity, especially if the training is to be conducted by someone in-house.
I’ve so often heard, “I don’t need media training; I know my company and my industry inside out.”
When I hear that comment, I respond: “Of course you do or you wouldn’t have this job. But that’s not the issue. The issue is: will anyone else know any more about your business when you’ve finished speaking? Most important, will they do, say, think, or feel what you want them to?”
Communication is not what you know or even what you say; it’s what the other person takes away. The purpose of media training is to be sure that what you say ends up getting the result you seek. Properly conducted by a skilled trainer, it is an invaluable part of any public relations program.
The way to sell anything to a CEO is to relate it to the bottom line. There is no question that interviews and public appearances by a fluent and skilled CEO like Jack Welch, former head of GE, enhance a company’s bottom line. There is also no question that poor communication by the leaders of BP further increased the loss of shareholder value in the wake of BP’s explosion and oil spill in theGulf of Mexico.
Some leaders of even very large firms reject media training because they see no value in appearing before the media. (“That’s not my job; I pay PR people to do that.”) Not only do they overlook the positive benefits that earned media can bring, they ignore the possibility that an upcoming media encounter might not be by choice. Just ask BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward, who found himself tangled in his own words after the Gulf spill, and worsened an already bad situation. Or Fritz Henderson, the CEO of General Motors following the government bailout, whose poor communication skills led to his early demise. If either of them was media-trained, it didn’t show.
The so-called ambush interview by journalists is fairly rare these days because staff cutbacks tend to keep the reporter-survivors in the newsroom, covering more stories in less time. But there is a new player on the scene: the citizen journalist. Today, anybody with a smart phone can run up to an executive and start firing questions in an exchange that could end up being seen by millions of people on YouTube. The wrong response, such as fleeing, or the wrong words, can have devastating consequences. But, it doesn’t have to be. The techniques for escaping that encounter with one’s dignity and reputation intact are exactly the same as those for the traditional ambush interview. Any good media training program prepares the executive for this possibility.
In sum, the CEO who rejects media training is failing on two fronts: loss of opportunity and lack of readiness for conflict. It’s too big a price to pay.
In my next post, I’ll cover some of CEOs’ primary points of resistance to media training and how they can be overcome.