Landon Thomas Jr’s. article in today’s NY Times was dead on in terms of CEOs needing to be more direct and concise in their comments.
Some of the quotes from the CEOs in the text reminded me of the old TV sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, in which child star Gary Coleman used his signature line, "What you talkin about Willis?" whenever he didn’t understand what his older brother had just said.
Having media trained hundreds of executives over the years, I’m struck by how many of them struggle to explain their organization, its mission and its points of differentiation in a clear, concise manner. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but many senior executives tend to ramble in initial media training sessions. Some use "corporate speak" that may be understood within the confines of their business but leaves us totally baffled. Others come across as hard sell sales guys trying to close a prospect. Others still don’t understand how the media work, and think that by putting on the charm they can achieve a positive story.
We make it simple for the executives we work with by instructing them to:
*Tell the reporter what’s keeping your customers or prospects up at night.
*Quantify and qualify the pain as best you can. Explain how your organization provides a unique solution to the pain. Illustrate the explanation with colorful anecdotes, etc., but don’t stray off message.
*If appropriate within SEC guidelines, paint a forward-looking picture for the reporter about your industry and your role within the industry. The goal here is to begin to establish a relationship with the reporter and position oneself as a thought leader.
By sticking to that format, most executives are able to "win" the interview and avoid the Gary Coleman response from reporters.