The Why and How of PR for chief executives and busy professionals

By Boni Sones

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Page 4. Why chief executives matter

  • Providing leadership

As chief executive you are a figurehead for your organisation both internally and externally. What you say and do is important to others. If you value good communications others will do too. It is not conceited to appear regularly in your local media, it sets a value for others and helps to communicate the brand values of your organisation.

Don’t worry about what others think of you, or that your quotes are not exactly what you wanted to be seen to say. The important thing is that you are starting a process that will over time drip feed messages out to an external audience about what your organisation does. In the long term this will be highly beneficial to you and as you get more used to dealing with the media your skills will improve. You will temper your expectations and become more realistic about how the media works.

There may be certain times when it is more important to communicate what you are doing than at others, for instance, during fundraising campaigns or when you need to recruit more volunteers or need to expand into new premises. However, you should ensure that your press releases and appearances are made on a regular basis, for instance every couple of months.

Action: Consider how you come across to others. How do others perceive you? How do you dress, what do you look like, do you have real authority? Remember doing too much can make it appear that you are not in control.

  • ? Your media skills count

Dealing with the media requires a professional approach to this work. You will improve as you increase your knowledge of what journalists respond to and want from you. However, you should have some form of media training.

You are the most important person in the organisation for media interviews. Knowing how to put your messages across requires a professional approach, particularly when “proactive” stories can often be turned into “reactive” and negative publicity.

You should always adopt a natural persona with the media, but at the same time you need to be on your guard. This can feel like scratching your head and tickling your tummy at the same time. Asking others to mentor you, or signing up to a course is the best way to ensure you approach acquiring media skills in a professional manner.

Action: Find out what media courses your local strategic partnerships are signing up to. Compare the cost of one with the other. Go on personal recommendation from others.

  • Providing appropriate resources

When planning your budget for the year set aside some resources for media training. As a first priority you should go on these courses, but in the long term ensure other senior staff are trained too.

By researching who is providing what you will be able to save yourself money. Don’t accept the first quote that you get, compare it with others. Ensure that those training you have first hand experience of broadcast as well as print journalism.

One off courses are useful but are not the answer. You need to build on what you have learnt and accept advice and criticism on a regular basis. We all have good days and bad days, so don’t be put off by one negative headline or one less than perfect appearance. Refresh your skills and ensure new staff receive training too.

Action: Set aside resources to ensure that you receive professional media training in the year ahead. Accept the advice you are given.

  • Give it time

Remember that it takes time to learn a new skill and that the more you practice it the better you will become. To learn to deal with the media professionally you need to find the time to put into practice what you have learnt.

When a journalist rings for an interview, offer to go into the local studio to do the slot rather than talking to them on the phone. That way they get a quality interview that sounds better and you get a chance to familiarise yourself with the studio setting. At first this can be off-putting, but you soon get used to presenters who are juggling 101 things to do and ask you a question then turn away to put a record on while you are replying!

Similarly down-the-line television interviews are the most difficult of all to conduct. Sitting in an outside TV studio talking to a presenter through an ear-piece without being able to see them is remarkably difficult. The more you do it the less nerve wracking it will seem.

Be kind to yourself. You won’t get it right first time, but practice will make perfect.

Action: Offer yourself up to local radio programme for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon interviews. You can do it, take that first stride into the radio studio but ensure you know what you want to say and on what terms the interview is being conducted. Ask questions – it’s your right.

  • Planning for the long term

As your organisation grows you will need to put in place a strategy for dealing with external and internal communications. You can write that strategy yourself or call on the help of professional agencies.

The media today is very sophisticated and it takes time to get messages across to others. A media strategy should cover both the long term ie the years ahead, and short term needs ie the months ahead, of your organisation. It will draw heavily on the policies you have devised, and the resources you have for marketing your organisation.

The events you plan can “create” news and can be a source of press releases. Similarly, any new policy you devise will need communicating as to how it affects others. A new brand strategy requires resources to convey these messages to others external to your organisation.

This may be a good time to take stock and commission some research on how others perceive you before you write your strategy. Knowing your starting point is important. Alternatively you can ask your own focus group.

Action: Think through your communication policies. At what stage will you need to write a communication strategy and why?

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