Andrew Ross Sorkin, of the New York Times, had one of those fly on the wall moments recently. While waiting at the Zurich Airport, he overheard a Fortune 50 chief executive getting pointers from a woman who was coaching him on how to talk to the media while at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Needless to say, the exec comes across as a hapless twit.
I have no idea who the guy is (mercifully, the reporter didn't cough up the name), but I give him credit for trying. In my years as a radio broadcaster, I interviewed many business people - and most of them were awful. Some were too wordy, many talked as if the whole world understood all the cliches and jargon of their industry, and more than a few appeared to be on life-support they were so lacking in enthusiasm. In my seven years here at Schwartz, I've done media coaching sessions with hundreds of executives, from start-ups to publicly traded companies. In almost every session, the question that takes the most time is "who are you and what do you do?" Distilling a corporate story into concise and compelling messages is not as easy as it seems. It takes work. The executive must be willing to practice and accept criticism on a continuing basis.
But aren't people fed up with executives and politicians "spinning" stories? Yes, of course. But there's a huge difference between spinning, which involves making things seem different than they really are, and delivering one's message in an honest and captivating manner.
It's easy for those of us sitting in the cheap seats to poke fun at folks in the public eye and say, "any fool can do what they're doing." It reminds me of the dopes at Fenway Park who seem to believe they could do a better job managing the Red Sox than Terry Francona. Wrong! Everything in life (sorry to wax philosophic) requires practice and dedication - and that includes message delivery. I hope the exec kicked butt at Davos.
Posted by John Moran on January 25, 2007 at 5:00 PM
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Obama-mania is dominating the political news this week. It has been remarkable to watch Barack Obama, with only two years experience in the U.S. Senate and two terms of service in the Illinois State Senate (representing a district from Chicago's South Side), become such a presence on the national scene. And, what's his claim to fame? One thing - he gives a heck of a speech. That's not meant as a dig. I admire his communication skills. In fact, Obama's ability to deliver a compelling message should serve as a lesson for business executives everywhere.
Effective communication with reporters is taken for granted by far too many business people. Most execs, whether they admit it or not, take a minimalist approach to press interviews. It's just a speed bump in their busy day. They go into interviews with little or no preparation, answer the questions they're asked and then fail to do a post-interview critique. If the article doesn't come out the way they'd like, the blame is usually placed on the PR rep or the reporter who "just didn't get it." Here are six things you should be doing for every interview:
* Insist that your PR team arm you with detailed preparation materials - and then read the stuff thoroughly. If you have questions, ask. If you need more material, send out the order.
* Get away from all distractions when you're doing the interview - no looking at laptops, Blackberry's, paper work etc. Focus!
* Once you know exactly what the reporter is writing about and who the audience is make sure you have an appropriate message.
* Exude energy and confidence - it's infectious. Conversely, no one wants to listen to someone drone on in a distracted/disinterested fashion.
* Be on your toes during the interview. If the reporter is interested/not interested in something you're saying, adjust accordingly. If the reporter is missing something, inject the topic into the conversation.
* When the interview is over, you and your PR counsel should do an honest assessment. Note the things you did well, correct the areas where you made mistakes.
Bottom line - once the interview is on, only you can grab the reporter's attention and move them to write a story. It's a skill that needs to be honed.
In politics, Kennedy had Sorenson and Sallinger. Reagan had Deaver, Baker and Meese. Clinton had Carville and Begala. Those aides, while talented people, did not make their bosses great communicators. Each of those leaders worked long and hard on their communication skills. Who knows what the future holds for Obama. He'll undoubtedly have capable handlers at his side. But, in the end, it will be his ability to get people to listen and move them to action that will determine his success or failure. And so it is with each of you.
Posted by John Moran on January 18, 2007 at 12:55 PM
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I was happy to hear that Les Moonves, president of CBS, told attendees at last week's Consumer Electronics Show that "there's no such thing anymore as old or new media. We're just media." The same thing is true for corporate communications.
A year ago, I appeared on a panel in Pittsburgh with blogging guru Rob Scoble, Attorney Jim Singer and Mike Woycheck, founder of the Pittsburgh Bloggers Forum. InformationWeek's John Soat led the discussion. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described the evening, "The room was filled with savvy business people, yet they didn't act savvy. They were acting like students trying to comprehend the subject and its implications." That was the exciting thing about the evening - it was a fun mix of curiosity and skepticism.
One of the issues that we discussed was the position of blogs on the corporate communication food chain. While some of the blogosphere's most passionate advocates would have you believe blogging will render traditional approaches obsolete, the truth (as usual) lies in the middle. Blogging, podcasts and wikis will have a profound impact on business collaboration and communication (see Andrew McAfee's thoughts on Enterprise 2.0), but there will always be a need for conventional communication channels (e.g. press releases).
It's not a matter of old vs. new. It's about using every tool you have to effectively communicate your organization's message.
Posted by John Moran on January 17, 2007 at 2:59 PM
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