It happens every time your boss is interviewed by a reporter. You hear about it from your co-workers, your fellow public relations practitioners, even from some reporters. The boss needs to smooth some jagged communications edges, and the hard fact is that you, as the resident PR expert, are responsible for driving his improvement.
While you recognize that one of the best ways to effect change is through an organized, sustained media training program, your boss is hesitant to acknowledge the need for it. Should you confront him and run the risk of losing your job?
Rest assured, there are methods for fostering that change that don’t result in the chief shouting, “Off with your head!”
Foot in Mouth Disease
Contrary to popular belief in some executive suites, none of us are born with flawless communications skills. Yes, some individuals have more natural talent in this regard than others. But none of us possess innate media relations skills, so we all need to work continually to sharpen our communications edge.
Perhaps your CEO sees one of his silver-tongued peers on CNN or CNBC, or quoted in The New York Times or Newsweek, and suspects his own performance clocks in a few notches lower. In fact, you know that to be the case. How can you open a discussion into his own talents? One approach is to ask him to critique one of his contemporary’s interviews.
Solicit your boss’ opinion by calling up the video of another CEO’s interview on his PC. Or send him a link to a print article where another CEO is quoted and probe his opinions. Here are some questions to help you jumpstart that discussion:
• What are this CEO’s communications strengths?
• What could he do better?
• How would you have answered that question from the reporter?
• If you were advising your fellow CEO, what would you tell him?
• What parallels do you see between this interview and our media efforts?
• What is the biggest lesson you can use in your media dealings?
Note the important transition from questions centering on the other CEO to those focusing on your boss. Get him talking by asking about the third party, then gently segue the conversation to the topic of his performance.
The Reluctant PR Counselor
As PR counselors, you and I could chat all day about shortcomings evidenced by our bosses and clients. Yet it is crucial to acknowledge that we, too, shy away from confrontation sometimes.
Most of us like our jobs (or at least strongly prefer that we have a job to come back to tomorrow). So the fear of falling on your sword is very real should you tell your boss he is not as good a communicator as he thinks he is.
How can you overcome your own reluctance? Call in the cavalry. It is important to keep in mind that you do have allies in this struggle. Here are some of the resources you can bring to bear:
• Other high-ranking executives in your organization who have secured the boss’ trust.
• CEOs from other companies that your boss respects.
• Media training consultants who understand that they must sometimes be the bearers of bad news.
One important note: While you can, and in some cases must, solicit aid from these sources in order to launch your media training efforts, it is ultimately up to you as the resident communicator to put this strategy in motion. If you fail to try to sharpen the boss’ communications edge, you are abdicating your responsibilities as a PR professional and it is probably time to find another line of work.
What’s in It for Me?
As with any persuasive endeavor, you would be well served to spell out for your boss how media training can help him. Here are a few benefits to bolster your case:
• Gain a marketplace advantage over rival firms.
• Forge and consistently deliver a magnetic message.
• Lower the odds for a failed media campaign.
• Heighten the success of your next product launch or public policy initiative.
• Put a stop to competitors stealing your customers.
• Steel yourself for potential crisis conditions.
• Open the door to a higher media profile by aiming for outlets like The Wall Street Journal and the major television networks.
Your boss is responsible for the success of your corporation or association, so use these organizational benefits to appeal to his professional side.
At the same time, don’t neglect to point out the personal gains, too. Being a better communicator leads to enhanced career opportunities, the ability to secure leadership positions in professional societies and avoiding embarrassment among peers. Through effective media outreach, he transforms himself into a thought leader among customers, shareholders, employees and competitors in addition to reporters.
Solidify Your Standing
Let’s keep this paragraph our little secret, just between you and me as PR counselors: You also stand to gain by guiding the boss toward sharper communications skills. Delivering frank yet necessary advice positions you as a member of the inner circle, something public relations advisors have long sought. It elevates your role to that of trusted advisor, not a mere hired hand who exists simply to churn out news releases and hound reporters.
When you make the decision to step forward and take responsibility for helping educate your boss through a comprehensive, sustained media training program, you create three winners: Your boss, your organization and yourself. That adds up to a recipe for success.
This article was excerpted from the forthcoming PR News' 2009 Media Training Guidebook. It was written by Ed Barks, media trainer and author of The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations. To order this or any PR News guidebook, visit www.prnewsonline.com/store.