How to turn your CEO visit into a successful media tour
You may be familiar with the scenario. The US-based CEO is in London next week and he/she wants to do some press interviews. Media tours like this do not come under the category of “optional” activities. This is where you have the opportunity to shine, tinged with the slight panic that it could all go terribly wrong. As I said, however, this is not a task you can run away from. So why do we do CEO media tours and what’s the best way to ensure they go smoothly and get you the coverage you and your CEO hope for?
Reaching new media sectors
While this may come under the letter “T” for threat in your situation SWOT analysis let’s focus on the “O” for opportunity for now. The CEO swooping into town is a great chance to break into media that hitherto have delivered only slim pickings. A C-suite media tour gives you access to business and financial press. If you’re a stock market quoted company you can target national press City and financial pages and business broadcast media like Bloomberg, CNBC and CNN. Equally it may give you a better shot at the tier one tech media like CBR and Computer Weekly who will appreciate the “view from the top” angle.
Don’t expect reverential treatment
And now for the bad news. Don’t assume that journalists will be in awe of your CEO to the same extent that you are. Most reporters are generally respectful and, on the whole, friendly people but they are not reverential and not there to be a cheerleader for your CEO. They are out to get a story. If you are planning to meet with City and financial press on media tours do be aware of the timing. If the share price has been on the slide recently you may need to do a little more preparation for negative questioning than in the week when it’s hitting an all-time high. A gentle reminder to the CEO that they should refresh their interview training might pay dividends here. Ask for help from your PR company or a training specialist like The Henshall Centre.
Deal with the known knowns-even if unpalatable
If there are any skeletons in your closet, expect them to be raised by the journalist. It is unlikely that United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz could expect to get through an interview without dealing with the forced relocation of passengers issue. Your skeletons may be a little less damaging than that but they may come up and you will need to have your answers prepared in advance.
Be ready to handle wider issues on a media tour
As well as known negative issues there is also the risk that the press will want your CEO’s verdict on topics that he or she may see as above his or her pay grade such as Brexit or the UK general election. However CEOs generally have a pretty high pay grade, so expect the unexpected; the topics that are outside the CEO’s normal field of expertise. There are always ways to turn these big issues into useful messages for your company. A question about Brexit could be used to highlight your concerns about access to top talent from within the EU, subtly hinting that you only employ the best skills and expertise regardless of nationality. This doesn’t make your CEO sound like a “Remoaner”. It makes him or her sound like a CEO.
Make life easy for the journalist…give them a story they can work with
So what can you do to get the most out of the CEO media tour? Start by making life easier for the journalist. Prepare some comprehensive briefing notes around the company and the CEO. Journalists follow hundreds of companies and, even if they have written about your company before, they may have only a vague notion of what you do or be out of date on recent developments. Give them the information they need to do your company and your CEO justice. Summarise main business activities, give them an idea of scale and recent successes. Most important, share with them any third-party favourable views on the company from analysts like Gartner, IDC and Forrester. Also try to give them a story around the company and the CEO. You know the sort of thing, the foundation story, usually involving starting out of a garage and working until the wee small hours on a diet of pizza and cola. Alternatively, give them a story around a current issue. We recently enjoyed some national media coverage for a security client with a story around the potential for Donald Trump’s phone to be hacked. Their CEO was fully briefed on the technical and political aspects to the story. It made the Telegraph and the tour was deemed a success.