Reputations take careful crating and building. Too often though it is the words or actions of senior team members that rapidly undo all the hard work. But do not assume they will know how they can inflict damage themselves. Help them avoid mistakes by telling them!
Communications may be considered seriously by senior teams in organisations but they do not always have the experience that goes with that belief. Directors and Chief Executives may come from banking, finance, accountancy and the law but few come from a communications background. Therefore the direct experience may be lacking. This, combined with so many competing priorities, may mean that they do not consider comms from the outset.
It is up to communications teams to help senior teams avoid the mistakes, not just to clear up after them. This means building trust and demonstrating their expertise, not just assuming it.
They need to be able to point out the potential pitfalls. These could include:
The same rules apply – there are not sets of expectations that apply to some and not others in any organisation. Where it comes to behaviour, especially when there are clear rules and guidelines set down, all employees have to deliver. Senior teams certainly do not enjoy any level of immunity.
Journalists are rarely your best friends – those without communications experience can get into some bad habits when dealing with journalists, opening up a little too much or getting caught out by tricky questions.
Everyone’s favourite (short-lived) Director of Communications, Anthony Scaramucci, is a great example of what can happen if you don’t appear to understand the rules of the game (although in Scaramucci’s case he may have known exactly what he was trying to achieve…). It is worth listening to a fascinating discussion on the New Yorker Radio Hour with the journalist involved in the call with Scaramucci, Ryan Lizza. There was no discussion of ground rules or ‘off the record’, they simply spoke which made all the comments part of a great reportable story.
Comms teams need not only to engage with the journalist on the ground rules, approach etc but also insist on briefing the executive as well. No exposure should take place without this type of preparation.
There is no public vs private – the media, and particularly social media, do not distinguish between the public and the private. What is said and done can be talked about, especially for high-profile organisations or leaders. There is no closing the door behind you. After-dinner talks, even if given to ‘friends’, can find their way online so no indiscrete comments or ‘jokes’.
Image courtesy of flickr user Brandon Grasley