Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Preparing Your CEO for Primetime

In my last post, I raised the question: Is your CEO ready for prime time, or even late night?

Most likely the answer is no. If the answer is yes, then good for you and good for your boss.

But for those with a top gun who is not prepared, here are a few suggestions.

Media spokesperson training is a must. Coaching for specific, sensitive or controversial interviews is a great idea. Public speaking training and coaching is another good investment in the CEO's time and the organization's dollars.

Media training is not just about what to wear, where to look and what to say. If your decision maker is going into a meeting with an adversary or negotiations with a union or vendor or new client, he/she is going to want to know everything possible about the person sitting across the table.

The same is true when dealing with a reporter. You need to know who they are, what they already know about you and the subject, what their biases may be, what their motive is or the "hook" for the story they are working on. Now the CEO is not normally going to do that preparation, but he/she needs to know what they need to know and make sure someone provides that information as much in advance as possible.

The CEO also needs to know how the media works -- really works -- not what he/she thinks they do and how and why they do it. There are a lot of misperceptions out there that get in the way of a spokesperson being as effective and successful as they can be.

There are a number of techniques that you can learn in media training and/or public speaking training that will make it easier to take control of the experience and maximize the opportunity. Every encounter with the media or direct encounter with key audiences is an opportunity to tell your story, with your facts and your perspective and counter false-hoods, rumors and misperceptions that typically abound, particularly when the organization is in crisis.

Speaking of misperceptions. Some executives want to hire a reporter or former reporter to "train" them. I was a reporter, editor and news manager for more than 35 years. That did not qualify me to be a spokesperson trainer. It usually doesn't qualify anyone else to be a spokesperson trainer or coach either. I learned from an experienced trainer and coach, and learned even more from experience as a spokesperson and by training other spokespersons.

In fact, a number of organizations are hiring former reporters and anchors to head up their public relations and community relations functions. Many of them will grow into very good and effective organizational communicators. But not automatically because they were reporters, and not overnight. Reporters and PR people are trained in two different schools of communication.

Experience in both makes for a better reporter and a better PR person. But a trained and experienced reporter is not ready to head up a communication department and an experienced PR person would give an editor nightmares before she was ready to turn loose on the beat.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your observation that PR practitioners and reporters, while sharing some of the same skill sets, come from different backgrounds. The two professions aren't necessarily interchangeable parts. I was first a journalist. I was teethed in PR by first editing an employee newsletter, and then taking my first awkward steps creating videos, talking with local reporters (who I already knew from my journalist days), and some rudimentary community relations. Fortunately for me, I was able to make the transition from newspapers to PR to crisis communications. My years as a reporter have been beneficial to me in PR and media relations.