Communication: Essential for CEOs

hotseat How far should CEOs engage with the media, asks the FT, seeking to find the answer to a simple question: Should business leaders be vocal in pressing their case via the airwaves and newsprint or should they avoid the potentially negative exposure altogether?

Credible answers are provided by an academic, a CEO, a media expert and a consultant. All of them are in broad agreement that a primary role of a CEO is to lead by example which also means communicating with the outside world often in ways outside a CEO’s own comfort zone.

So what’s to be done? My favourite snips from what four in the hot seat have to say:

  1. The Academic: […] I am amazed that anyone could seriously question whether business leaders should engage with the public. […] Yes, the media will be ready to pounce at any misstep – so will any blogger or activist shareholder. Stay on the offensive by being transparent and strategic, and by keeping the lines of communication open through good times and bad. – Paul A. Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.
  2. The CEO: […] If business leaders don’t engage directly with the public, someone else will. With the growth of social media, “citizen journalists” could be blogging and tweeting about your business. Surely it’s better to find a way of communicating directly with the public yourself? – Stephen Martin, Clugston Group.
  3. The Media Expert: […] Business leaders must be more optimistic. […] The media, on the other hand, peddle in pessimism. They live in the now. They are obsessed with a narrow band of time stretching from yesterday morning to tomorrow night at the latest. The best CEOs are focused about one year out, maybe two or three. – David Yelland, partner at Brunswick Group and a former editor of The Sun newspaper.
  4. The Consultant: […] The CEO cannot do everything, so work hard to find and train the individuals one or two levels down, part of whose role should be to take more media opportunities – even when there are tough issues – and patiently put the organisation’s view across. They must not pretend their company always gets everything right, but come over as a sympathetic and reasonable presence to journalists and across the airwaves. – Tom Maddocks, founder and course director of Media Training Associates.

Read the FT’s feature to get the full context of these views.

My learning from and interpretation of the sum of the opinions from these four experts:

  • Communication is an essential proactive activity by an organization’s leader in enabling him or her to effectively engage with everyone who has an interest in the organization, as well as those who the organization has an interest in.
  • Communication isn’t just for when things look good: you have to work at it in every circumstance, good and bad.
  • Communication is about people connecting with other people in ways that are natural, genuine, passionate and honest, reflecting how most people behave when talking to other people about things they have an interest in. There are plenty of tools and methods available that are designed for connecting people together, collectively known as social media.
  • Communication is about shared responsibility: if the CEO is the pinnacle of an organizations’ engagement, part of his or her responsibility is also fostering a culture of openness and transparency in the organization to enable anyone to communicate, confidently and passionately.
  • Communication in and by an organization today isn’t (or shouldn’t be) only the role of the professional communicators – their evolving role is also a leadership one, helping people at all levels in the organization figure out and understand the changes that are happening all around them and their roles as communicators.

Anything to add (or subtract)?

(Image credit: Sports Judge Blog. Passionate commentary about US fantasy sports topics, often in the hot seat.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Rebecca Caroe

    Neville, what happens when you work in a highly regulated industry like Pharma? It seems that some pharma brands are being coaxed onto Twitter, but many deliberately do not want to engage with their audiences because they “Have to go through legal” first.
    Rebecca Caroe

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