Your CEO makes for a mediocre interview. After watching yet another painful Bloomberg News clip, you’ve decided you have to give him some pointed feedback. How can you convince him that he needs to change without bruising his ego…or losing your job? And how can you help him to be engaging, rather than sounding like he’s simply parroting key messages over and over?
To start the conversation, be direct. Too many PR pros cloak communications to senior management in wimpy language.
Instead, get straight to the point: “John, I’ve been watching your recent TV interviews and know you can do better …”. Execs appreciate and respect concise, candid communication, so don’t mince words.
Once you have his attention, tempt your CEO. Tell her: “I’m confident that if we can get you more comfortable on camera, we can land you that CNBC segment you’ve wanted.”
CEOs are ambitious by nature, so use this to your advantage and tease the potential rewards.
Finally, spark the CEO’s sense of competition. “In the last month, I’ve seen the CEOs of three of our biggest rivals on CNBC. You deserve the same opportunity. Can I work with you to get you there?”
To close the deal, make your ask reasonable. “To get you on the right track, I need one morning next week. We can follow up with other sessions as your schedule permits. Can we schedule this first meeting with your assistant?”
Follow this path and you have the opportunity to enhance your value with the C-suite. But PR managers must persist in the endeavor and not let it fall through the crack.
DEMYSTIFY THE PROCESS
First of all, show the CEO some outstanding interviews (to keep the competitive juices flowing, it’s ideal if some of these feature his arch nemeses). Then, get analytical. Detail for him exactly what made these interviews so strong.
If you can make the interview process less mysterious, you will spark your CEO’s drive to master the game himself.
When you show him your “greatest hits,” be sure to focus on examples that showcase great storytelling.
Then, help your CEO to cater stories of her own that communicate key points about the company’s products or services or market moves.
I find it helpful to do this in front of a giant whiteboard. On one side of the board, write the key messages he will want to communicate. On the other, detail anecdotes he can use to get his points across.
For example, if he wants to talk about a critical competitive differentiator, find a story about how a key client opted for your agency compared with others in a “bake off.”
If he wants to show how your firm’s culture is attractive, identify a story about how the culture helped you to win a key hire in a competitive market.
By the time you’ve done all this, your morning will be over. But I guarantee that your CEO will be jazzed enough by the progress you’ve made that he’ll want to schedule a second session.
He’ll start to understand that the company’s stories will be his way to reach his audience in a way that resonates.
Tell him that in the interim his homework is to internalize the stories you’ve drummed up together, to make them second nature. In subsequent sessions, your focus should be on the practice. Hit your CEO with a broad range of questions.
Help him get used to answering with stories, rather than just the facts. Capture his performance on video and review it together.
And when it comes to feedback, don’t be wimpy. Blunt criticism now will make for better interviews later.
So what will this approach to executive communications get you? For one thing, you’ll get what you were yearning for: a business leader who can talk about his organization in an engaging way, someone who uses stories to connect with listeners and drive home key points in a memorable way.
Just is important is that you’ll earn your CEO’s respect.If you’re bold in your approach and deliver what you promise, your result will be greater organizational influence than many communications pros ever get.
Phil Carpenter is a senior partner with Allison+Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 13, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.