First-Class Coach

My organisation is doing worthwhile things but our profile is very low. That's mostly because the CEO doesn't seem to want to talk to the media.

by Miranda Kennett

We need to be better known and I would be prepared to front the initiative, but am worried I would be treading on his toes.

A: Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is credited with the saying 'Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door', has a lot to answer for. Because, these days, unless you are content to wait for your reward in heaven, doing good work is simply not enough: whether you are an individual or a company, in the private or public sector, you need to tell the world about your qualities and achievements.

Positive communication is crucial: it has good effects on existing and potential customers, on suppliers, affiliates and employees. A famous press advertisement from McGraw-Hill encouraging corporate advertising depicted a grumpy senior businessman saying: 'I don't know you. I've never heard of your company. I don't know your products. Now, what was it you were trying to sell me?' Its message is even more relevant today, 20 years on, when there is so much more competition for attention and favourable opinion. So I am right with you on your assertion that greater publicity will help further your aims for the organisation.

But the scenario of the publicity-averse chief executive is also familiar. Sometimes, it's because the CEO has come up though the ranks and is more focused on the internal than the external; in other cases, critical media attention in the past has made the leader wary of poking his or her head above the parapet; often, it is just a case of personal shyness. Whatever the reason, it's important to find a way around the roadblock.

It's good that you want to take on the task, but be aware of the potential downside. Apart from the toe-treading you mention, your boss and your peers might construe your motive as self-aggrandisement rather than a genuine interest in furthering the aims of the organisation.

So I suggest you engage the attention of the whole management team. Try talking to your colleagues and peers about the need for publicity and get them to identify positive stories that could be of interest to the outside world. Then discuss what might be the best vehicle for them. Do you have a case history that would interest a conference audience? Can you think up an opinion piece that could be run in your sector's trade press; or is there an issue that would attract local coverage in the press, local radio or even TV?

Having established a short list of topics and methods of exposure, identify the people who'd be best to deliver them, including your chief executive. Then organise a meeting with him to discuss the need for publicity and present him with the results of your team's brainstorming. Once he sees that there's agreement among managers of the need for publicity, but also the options in terms of who is responsible for doing it, he is likely agree to at least some of the activity, if not all. He may choose to perform some of the options himself. He might, for instance, prefer to write a short opinion piece for publication rather than appear on a platform, or vice versa.

These discussions would also flag up any sensitive areas that are best avoided, and prompt agreement on a suitable corporate line if these issues crop up. Involving other members of the management team will help you identify the best spokesperson on a given subject area. Your colleagues may not be keen on being in the front line, but at least they will feel consulted and you will have a clearer remit for your initiative.

Once you've gained agreement on who and what, you can schedule activity so that there is a fairly regular flow of communication.

If your CEO remains resistant, you may have to work up to the idea of continuous positive external communication gradually. Carrying out a low-risk test and making the positive results known could be a good way in. Many people who are wary of the initial idea find exposure to the reality a lot less daunting than they expected.

As a last resort, you could always suggest hiring a PR company: not only do experienced communications professionals have relationships and contacts with a range of journalists and broadcasters, they have ways of coaxing recalcitrant CEOs into the limelight, and training to help them do it successfully.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.

If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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