Today’s CEOs and Execs are faced, not only with the challenge of managing a business or a division, but also how to connect with the wider world through a variety of different media channels. Some are
embracing the opportunity to connect with their consumers, staff and the wider public, whilst others, fearing they will make the same mistakes as their counterparts, are hiding away in hope it is a passing fad!
To take a metaphor from Aristotle’s teachings, just as the individual needs to have a stake in society in order for that society to succeed, so does the employee and community need to feel that they have a stake in the business in order for that business to thrive. This is the responsibility of the CEO, to engage with its employees and consumers in whatever way best benefits the growth and overall success of its organisation.
A leader’s communication strategy used to be so simple
If something happened, whether it was negative or positive, you would prepare your speech and direct it to the media. If a journalist was to call unexpectedly, first rule: never answer their questions immediately. Second rule: try to ascertain the reason for the call, then make an apology: “I’m just going into a meeting, I’ll call you back in thirty minutes” and by the time you call them back you’ve gained all the information you need to present your case. Rule three: always wear a smile, even over the telephone, and have a strong handshake. There seemed endless time to prepare, compose yourself and present.
The late great newspaper proprietor William Randolph Hearst defined news as “something someone, somewhere wants suppressed”. With the ‘News of the World’ quickly and suspiciously closing its doors this month and CEO of
‘News International’ Rebekah Brooks and Prime Minister David Cameron sheltering behind one another’s horse stirrups, never could any statement be more current. Here we have seen, and will undoubtedly continue to see, a tour de force on how not to deal with the media in a crisis from two supposedly media savvy “Aristo-Cats”!
In an emergency situation, and hopefully not one as horrific, criminal and self-explosive as the one involving ‘News of the World’, we need to focus on crisis management and, even before that, crisis preparation. This preparation should involve a consideration of the following: who would our audience be? Through which media would we communicate? What would be the potential
reaction? What is the worst case scenario? On a practical level, we would
engage and implement a crisis team to examine what resources and facilities are available to support our case. In a well prepared organisation, this crisis
team would have already been chosen, prepared and briefed for such a situation.
Finally, the bridge building phase would be implemented, which would involve
utilising the press, engaging with staff and communicating to the public and
the wider community what has happened and what our direction will be from here.
These steps constitute the preparation and stratagems necessary to deal with
any given media crisis situation.
Through working with some of the most influential leaders in progressive conglomerates from all four corners of the world, one thing I have noticed that runs like a vein through them all, is the ability to communicate and inspire. So why is it that so many business leaders are still wary of engaging with modern forms of media? Why do they find ‘tweeting’ and ‘linking-in’ such an unusual concept? Perhaps it is because they have sat watching ‘News 24’ in their lunch or stolen a look at a newspaper with the headline, ‘Tweeting CEO makes twit of himself’, and thought better of throwing themselves to the same fate! This year the clothes designer Kenneth Cole sent a painfully unsuccessful tweet during the crisis in Cairo: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC”. This is surely enough to make any CEO quiver at the thought of engaging
with such a tumultuous form of communication. Even though Kenneth’s comments sent shockwaves through the social media world, he then dealt with the situation very well. He immediately apologised with sincerity and acknowledged the fact that so many people felt his tweet was opportunistic and immensely unsympathetic. Even though there was still some damage done, his timely and measured approach in response to the criticism ensured a certain amount of damage limitation. What should we glean from this? That we should never make a foray into the world of new technologies or that mistakes are rectifiable (‘News of the World’ aside) and that sometimes we can gain greater respect for the way we deal with such situations through honesty and integrity.
CEO of ‘Starbucks Corporation’, Howard Schultz, recently said at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon: “the biggest error… is for companies not to be active in social media at all.” When we look at the pitfalls of social media it is easy to run and hide, but what we must remember is that through social media one voice can become a voice of millions, one opinion can become the opinion of the masses and one lonely aficionado can be the inspiration and motivation for a revolution.
CEO’s and company executives need to prick up their ears and we, as objective search and recruitment specialists, are perfectly positioned
to deliver this message. Media and social media can be an important strategic marketing tool, and the longer senior business leaders stay away from it, ever the more prevalent will be the gulf between their business and its consumers.
By Theo Smith
A feature from this July / August addition of Onrec magazine