At The Bawmann Group, we have helped executives navigate the headwaters of intense media scrutiny for more than 20 years. We’ve helped train spokespeople so that they may clearly and confidently tell their stories after airline crashes, explosions, strikes, shootings, layoffs, incest, fires, embezzlement, financial improprieties, college football scandals and sadly – the unfortunate deaths of patients killed by medical errors.
Trial and error is not our preferred form of training. Nor is it for Future Hall of Famer and NFL legend Tom Brady. Even Brady has a media trainer who helps him avoid the rush of the media with grace and skill.
Not all quarterbacks – or CEOs – are keen on the time it takes to master the art of working with the press. We think that’s a mistake as the CEO is arguably the company’s most visible and impactful brand ambassador.
Facebook’s Founder Mark Zuckerberg gets this and has put his money where his mouth is. Last year he announced a new program to train one million CEOs to be more digitally literate.
Some 70 million businesses already use Facebook and why not – with an audience of 2 billion and growing daily, Facebook is one news channel that cannot be ignored not only for brand reputation but brand building.
At TBG, we have developed a list of 10 items for CEOs and chief marketing officers to consider when planning for their next media crisis. In no particular order, here they are:
- No plan, sitting on a shelf, will save you. Regular practice is paramount to success.
- CEOs, senior managers and boards that invest in media training fare much better than their competitors when the storm comes calling.
- Leadership during a crisis is everything.
- The military model of “command and control” often works best in a crisis and explains why a lot of political entities struggle during crises.
- Practice 10,000 hours and you might get a handle on it.
- Owning your message has never been easier thanks to technology, the Internet and social media.
- Having cameras everywhere means visuals are rapidly replacing words.
- When dealing with bad press the rules of decorum are immensely advantageous to your long-term goals.
- Humility, transparency and honesty are guideposts for life and media conflicts.
- Sound crisis management is both offense and defense.
There are more. Twenty-plus years of lessons learned. But the fundamentals of media training cannot be ignored in today’s bombastic news cycle and flood of social media channels available to a world of storytellers.
Perhaps there’s one last suggestion that would be immensely helpful for those who aspire to communicate more effectively: It is to listen. Stop talking. And to be less emotional in your responses. As Jerry Weissman so eloquently states in this recent Forbes article, “If you, as the presenter, think of your list of prepared answers while the question is being asked, you might as well put plugs in your ears, because you will have missed the essence of the question. Listen to the question. Listen for the key issue in the ramble. Extract the one or two key words at the center of the ramble.As you do, subvocalize. Without using your voice or moving your lips, say those key words to yourself. This simple technique will not only keep you from thinking of the answer, once you’ve clarified the key issue, it will tee up your answer. Your audience will be grateful — and so will your significant other.”
Mock crisis training is a great way to put into practice all our communication work to see how you your team functions when there’s a fire or a workplace shooting. Perhaps it’s internal fraud and the SEC has just launched an investigation against your board. Whatever the scenario, TBG can help get you ready.