Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Media smart CEOs

Advice for golfing CEOs

Cyber Age
ND Batra
The Statesman

While we were waiting to tee off, my golf buddy who happens to be the CEO of a global company, asked me how a company should deal with journalists for whom bad news makes a good story. The news media, I agreed, have begun to play a very significant role in the conduct of both national and international business. 24/7 television news is converging with the Internet, making events live and spontaneous beyond the control of gatekeepers. The rise of bloggers, Online whistleblowers and public interest groups, enables the presentation of alternative views of what companies are doing.

Gone are the days when a business could be conducted beyond the public view. The reason for this heightened interest in what companies do is simple. The impact on people’s lives even if they are not directly invested in a company is tremendous. The very presence of Home Depot or Wal-Mart in a town raises fear and expectations. This gives rise to the need for intense scrutiny by the news media. When India’s Ambani brothers of the Reliance conglomerate were fighting, Wall Street was watching keenly.

Of course, the news media is itself a global business and is subject to rules and regulations like any other business. But in the United States and in many other democratic countries, especially in Europe, Japan, India and Australia, the news media has a privileged position.

In the United States, it is extremely difficult to win libel damages against the news media because of the legal provision that the plaintiff must prove what is called “actual malice,” or “wreckless disregard for truth.” Proving media negligence only is not enough to win libel damages. The near immunity from libel gives the news media freedom and encourages investigative reporting and keeps society healthy.

Because of the inescapable fact that our economic well being, pensions, retirement savings, environment and quality of life have become dependent on the marketplace, no business can escape media attention. Bigger companies invite the healthy suspicion of the media about their activities. Add to it millions of blogs that feed upon each other.

The conspiracy of silence is possible only in a one-party authoritarian state like China, which probably is one of the reasons why global corporations want to do business there. There are very few anti-business reports from China, which nevertheless in the long run might prove counterproductive. So what can be done?

A company doing business globally has to become media savvy and must understand how news organisations work and how they produce stories. Corporate communicators and diplomats have to understand the media’s sources of information and their reporting methods, and have to learn how to influence them by providing them correct information.

Companies have been using advertising as a major method of influencing the public ~ for example, oil companies, BP and Exxon-Mobil, make advertisements to divert attention from the alleged price gouging at the pump. Advertising is still a powerful mode of direct communication with the public at large. But advertisements cannot beat headline news, breaking stories, or special reports with which the news media try to draw public attention that is distracted by infoglut.

It is a big challenge to be heard in the Tower of Babel and more so, when the reputation of the corporate world, because of a series of accounting scandals and the personal misconduct of some companies’ CEOs, has created an air of diffused distrust in the public. Let us keep in mind that no reporter could ever turn a bad story into a good one, especially in crises, when news organisations and celebrity journalists try to outdo each other.

News is a competitive business and no one can afford to keep silent over a story that has an impact on the public. In good times, a company that has excellent working relations with the news media can strengthen its position by presenting positive stories and thus enhance its reservoir of public good will. Consequently, when a crisis hits the company, it will be able to draw upon the public sympathy.

Building social capital is as important as building market capital.
The traditional method of issuing press and video releases is still relevant, especially in local news media outlets, where the paucity of resources might prompt a local television station or a newspaper to repackage a company’s story as a news item. But national news media organisations are inundated with e-mail news tips, and video and press releases and so, they hardly pay attention to junk mail. It is therefore important to target the right people in the news media.

Steps for effectively dealing with the news media require research. But the following points can be helpful:

First determine whether you have a definite story and whether it needs to be told to the news media and why.
What is the audience for the story and which news media would be the best to reach? Which reporters normally cover such stories and which one of them would be most sympathetic to your story?
Is the reporter accessible for pitching the story? What angle would he adopt and how to influence him?
When the news media come calling for information and comments, the company should offer full cooperation; and the spokesperson should be ready with facts and figures or promise to provide the data promptly to meet the reporter’s deadline.
Information should be provided thoughtfully and judiciously. It is difficult to undo or correct the information once it is out.
Providing reliable and prompt information is one of the best ways to build bridges with the news media; when the need arises, the company can count upon the media good will.
Most of all, do not be caught with your hands in the cookie jar. And play honest golf.

1 comment:

  1. In the world, only Indians are "smart", all others are "not smart" since they are still heavily investing in China, which make "red-eye" Indians like this author.

    Why few companies like to invest in India? Since there is a brutal, torrorist gov there, even worse than commie:

    Come to check how many civilians were killed by Indian gov in protesting in the 5 months of this year. (not a complete list)

    1.India: twelve protestors killed in police shooting

    2.India: Four killed in protests in India's Gujarat state

    3. India: Four were killed in the Violence over Indian star's death

    Come to see how India gov robs its people.

    To artificially make Kolkata "shining", gov "bought from farmers for 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per acre and sold to builders for Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 per acre "

    This happens in a large city in India. !!!!!

    It's nice to see that more and more brave Indians take their weapons to fight this killer and robber gov.


    Who like to invest in this country? Gov killing becomes almost everyday life there.