learn to manage the media if they want to influence how their
stories are told, says author William J. Holstein in his new
book, "Manage the Media: Don’t Let the Media Manage You".
CEO's of our time represent
more than half of their companies' brand. It is hard to get and easy
to lose. And lots of examples: "Chief executive officers are
losing the battle of perception when it comes to stakeholder
opinion. There’s no clearer example than that of Robert Nardelli,
the former CEO of Home Depot, whose reactions to protests about his
US$200 million–plus compensation package sparked a public
The case is described in Strategy + Business and adapted from New
York-based business journalist William J. Holstein new book, "Manage
the Media: Don’t Let the Media Manage You", published by
Harvard Business School Press,.
Other CEOs have felt the sting of bad public relations: Hank
McKinnell was hounded out of Pfizer, Lord Browne of BP was drummed
out, and Bill Ford at Ford Motor Company quit under pressure.
The stakes are higher than just one figure’s personal fate. The
shellacking that companies receive, often over the issue of CEO
compensation, knocks hundreds of millions of dollars off their
market capitalization, hurting executives, employees, and investors.
journalist William J. Holstein new book, "Manage
the Media: Don’t Let the Media Manage You" is
published by Harvard Business School Press.
Use ongoing communications counsel
The roots of the problem are deep. Most executives are not
skilled at communicating with the media, and they do not enjoy it.
They have often put the wrong people in place to manage the public
relations function. Furthermore, they have not structured their
companies in such a way that they have the benefit of wise, ongoing
communications counsel combined with timely, technologically savvy
monitoring and response mechanisms. For all these reasons, too many
CEOs are simply outmaneuvered and outgunned by adversaries far more
skilled in influencing the media — both the traditional variety
and the explosion of YouTube videos, Weblogs, and search engines.
William J. Holstein suggests how CEOs canrespond to this changed
Integrate communications with strategy. Given the rapid emergence
of coalitions of critics, and in recognition of the increasing
prevalence of real-time Internet-based media, communications can no
longer be a sideshow. U.S. companies, from the board level down,
will need to build communications concerns into their DNA. Boards
will need to evaluate a CEO’s communications style and
effectiveness. And CEOs will have to recognize that they personally
must address shareholders through the media. In preparation,
candidates for the CEO slot and other high-potential leaders being
groomed for leadership positions should have the benefit of media
training and be exposed to media interviews on the way up the
corporate ladder so that they are seasoned when they reach the top.
CEOs also need to select senior public relations counsel and public
affairs advisers whom they respect (...).
Take control of the story. CEOs can go on the offensive with
their message. It is essential in today’s highly politicized
climate of opinion.
In the personal realm, chief executives should reach out and
establish relationships with key news organizations and the
reporters who cover their companies. The best CEOs are also able to
define the story by creating a set of issues that will catch the
media’s attention. This high-level message should mesh with the
strategic vision for the company as a whole and have a direct but
subtle connection with business goals.
One of the best examples of a CEO with a winning message
architecture is William C. Weldon of Johnson & Johnson. The
cover of the company’s most recent annual report says simply: “Johnson
& Johnson: Our passion transforms.” Weldon’s letter to
shareholders begins: “Improving the health and well-being of
people around the world is a vital and important business. It is
perhaps the world’s most meaningful business and, for that reason,
attracts exceptional people who are capable, skilled, and possess a
genuine passion for making a difference in people’s lives.” It
is brilliant positioning, and the evidence is that both J&J
employees and the media believe in this message. (...)
Embrace electronic communications. Blogs, Web sites, social
networking sites, and search engines all have huge implications for
companies, because these channels threaten the loss of control over
the flow of corporate information and over company brand names. Yet
the vast majority of today’s CEOs built their careers long before
the Internet reached its current level of sophistication. “The
CEOs of the largest 50 companies in the world are practically hiding
under their desks in terror about Internet rumors,” crisis manager
Eric Dezenhall told Business Week.
Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, maintains an
extensive blog. Microsoft does have 5,000 employee bloggers who
engage with audiences online. Dell has appointed “chief bloggers,”
whose jobs center on defusing complaints about Dell’s service.
Companies must learn to engage in the public debate: The old days
of just putting out a press release are long gone. David Neeleman,
the former chairman of JetBlue, wrote an e-mail of apology to every
customer affected by his company's extensive flight delays in
February 2007 and put a videotaped apology on YouTube, pledging, “It
won’t happen again.” He then appeared on David Letterman’s
late-night television show, and that segment was also placed on