News Explosion Lands CEOs in the Spotlight, for Better or for Worse

by Dean S. Goldman, president, Goldman & Associates Public Relations

If you’re a company leader or organizational head, being camera-shy isn’t an option anymore. The media and public are increasingly expecting the CEO to step up to the microphone as the face and voice of the firm.

Why? The explosive growth of news and business media means that more reporters are asking more companies more questions. And with recent corporate scandals, increasing litigation and more freedom of information probes, these questions are becoming more pointed, more aggressive and more in need of fast and appropriate answers.

However, this increased media focus offers you excellent opportunities to present a positive, effective image of your company. Crises and scandals aren’t the only things that can put you in the news; innovative projects, community involvement and other positive initiatives can also place your firm in the headlines. What’s important is the manner in which you handle the focus. From the onset, establish credibility by “talking from the top.” Being available to the media, upfront and accountable can often ease bad circumstances and make good situations better.

With bad news, a swift and solid response brings assurance to the audience – an audience that can consist of everyone from the media, the public, your customers and employees. Promptness can also help your organization move past difficulties more quickly. Promoting good news in a timely fashion seizes the window of immediacy that makes a story more newsworthy. The upshot: Success or failure by the CEO to effectively communicate the company’s position or message can positively or negatively affect essentials such as employee trust, the bottom line, stock price and ultimately a career.

Remember that one of the major keys in achieving a positive outcome is good preparation, which will help the camera-shy overcome nerves and gain confidence. If your firm does not have in-house expertise, seek professional media relations advice and training from a reputable public relations or marketing firm. Meanwhile, here are some suggestions for preparing for your next media interview:

  • If possible, find out beforehand how long the interview will be and what the focus is. Then take some time to think through what you will likely be asked and how you can respond clearly and concisely. You might practice saying these responses aloud so that you’re comfortable with how they sound. Also, think about any special points you want to make sure the reporter understands and includes in the story. Try to raise those points yourself if the reporter doesn’t ask about them.
  • Keep your answers simple, clear and without painstaking detail. If the reporter would like more information, he or she will ask for it. In general, it’s best to give answers that are no more than 20 seconds in length.
  • Don’t ask the reporter if you can speak “off the record.” There’s really no such thing. Always assume you are on the record even if you are assured otherwise.
  • Don’t lose your temper, even if the questions are offensive. Your anger will become part of the story. This can be especially detrimental with broadcast media, since what you do will be seen or heard and can be edited to maximum effect.
  • Never respond to a question with “no comment.” There are many ways to avoid commenting on a topic without actually using the unappealing phrase “no comment.” For example, you can say that are you not able to talk about that particular topic, but that there are other things you can discuss, and then go on to discuss them. It may also be appropriate for you to say that it is premature to comment, because you do not have all the facts, but that you expect to have all the facts by a certain time or day, and that you will be able to talk about it then.
  • Because note-taking is by its nature inexact, your comments may not appear precisely as you said them to the reporter, but in paraphrased form. However, if there’s information that must be conveyed word-for-word or it will be substantially wrong, provide the reporter with a written statement or press release from which he or she can quote.

When you think about it, succeeding with the news media is like succeeding in business: preparation and fast action are key. You’ve already succeeded in your career – awareness and training will help you succeed with the media, too.