Our President Ashley McCown recently served as a featured panelist at the PR News Crisis Management Summit in Miami Beach. Among her fellow speakers and attendees were a variety of in-house marcomms professionals from some of the world’s leading brands as well as other agency leaders. The conference kicked off with a media training workshop, in which participants shared insights on how to best position communications within an organization and how to prepare a CEO for the inevitable PR crisis.
Here are our 10 takeaways for communications professionals:
- Be a strategic advisor: Most CEOs go to bed and wake up thinking about challenges and problems. Position yourself as someone who doesn’t just think about media opportunities but who helps the CEO solve problems. Look to be opportunistic- i.e., present a solution to a problem at the right time.
- Prioritize trainings: Everyone needs media-training. No matter how experienced or media-savvy your CEO is, he/she can always get better. If they balk or insist it’s not necessary, remind them that even future hall of fame (and our favorite) quarterback Tom Brady needs a coach.
- Use video: Taping your CEO during media training and playing it back for them may be uncomfortable at times, but it is the simplest and most direct way to identify opportunities and challenges when it comes to their performance as chief spokesperson.
- Be part of the conversation: Make media training an ongoing part of the agenda: use meetings as opportunities to present examples of press interviews that went well and not so well for other CEOs as teaching moments.
- Find time: Cultivate a good relationship with the CEO’s assistant so he/she can help you find time on the CEO’s busy schedule. Whether it’s in between meetings or in the car on the way to the airport, there are always windows to media train and help keep the CEO’s skills fresh.
- Keep employees top of mind: They are the CEO and organization’s biggest stakeholders, part of the team and your biggest brand ambassadors. Keep a clear line of communication open between management and employees and especially don’t let them read or hear bad news from the media before you’ve told them first.
- Help the CEO step up: When times are tough, stakeholders want to hear from the CEO. It’s he/she who can best communicate the values of the organization. However, if the crisis is relevant to another member of the C-suite, ensure that individual is prepared to communicate necessary information as well.
- Cultivate media relationships: Media relations are human relations. Find a reason to set up coffees. There is no greater value than providing information to a reporter when you’re not pitching. Having this kind of equity with journalists will only help during the tough times when you will have to work to position their brand in a favorable light.
- Evaluate each opportunity: Ask yourself: Who are the stakeholders you need to communicate with, what problem is being solved and what is the best channel for that? The CEO is talking to stakeholders all the time. The media won’t always be the best channel—it could be social media, a townhall meeting or an email.
- Hold yourselves accountable: Especially in a crisis, stakeholders will be hanging on your CEO’s every word. Prep to make sure he/she doesn’t overpromise and help hold them accountable for what they do If you don’t, others will.
All of these points are dependent on communications professionals having a strong level of trust established with their CEO. It all goes back to the first takeaway “Be a strategic advisor.” Any CEO will appreciate a colleague who offers solid counsel, continually takes the initiative, and can anticipate their needs. Crisis and issues management is not just about responding in the moment, after all, it’s also about managing up to ensure you CEO is the strongest communicator possible when necessary.