Unless a decision has been made by the company that the CEO will never enter the media limelight (and which company would make such a decision?), I recommend that the CEO is media trained at least once and that regular refresher session are organized.
The content of the CEO media training is not inherently different from what the media training for other senior executives should look like. However, in preparing for the CEO media training workshop, there are specific points of attention that should be taken into consideration that are discussed below.
Composing the group
Should CEOs be trained alone? The answer to that question depends ironically on others. If there are members of the Executive Committee who require a media training but who risk being insecure performing in the presence of the CEO, because they are entirely new to media interviews, for example, it is recommended to save them the pain and train them separately. If the directors do match up, then they should join in.
Next, to the trainee(s), you will typically have one trainer or possibly a trainer and a co-trainer (one should have the lead). The trainer is almost always an external consultant. He or she needs to have sufficient experience media training senior executives. Another requirement for the trainer is that he or she has enough business understanding to be able to level with the CEO during a simulated interview or a discussion on messaging. A CEO will pick up on a trainer not grasping the financial terminology that is used in a conversation, and I have never seen this be beneficial to the credibility of the trainer.
I also recommend having somebody present who represents the communication function. Let’s call this person here the “PR Manager” although the exact title will be different from one organization to another. This is the person whose role it is to oversee what is said by the company and its leaders to the media. The PR Manager and the trainer have very distinct roles in media training. I will come back to that later.
Finally, if the media training is (partially) on-camera a video crew member will be present to record conversations and play them back. This video professional should not engage with the CEO or any other trainees except for giving instructive information – when prompted by the trainer – on seating, talking into the mic, etc..
It is an absolute requirement that all the people that are external to the company sign a confidentiality agreement or are committed to non-disclosure through an existing service contract and that the CEO is informed or reminded of this being the case at the start of the training. A media training is meant to be a secure sandbox exercise in which the CEO can afford a slip of the tongue. It needs to be clearly perceived as such by the CEO.
Designing the training
Each media training is the same, but still a bit different. What the agenda for a specific media training with the CEO will look like will depend on two things: the needs of the moment and the needs of the CEO.
The needs of the moment decide on the room that needs to be made on the agenda for message development. In theory, there is a “message map” that is ready for everybody to get to work with and attention can be focused on rehearsing delivery techniques. But that is theory. Often, an organization will find itself in a situation where the messages are not yet tuned sufficiently. The media training will in such case unearth important inconsistencies and gaps making it more than useful to foresee time to discuss the three main components of the message map for any announcement: key messages, proof points, and quotes.
The needs of the CEO have to do with the experience that the CEO has talking to the media. The trainer is responsible for providing a session that fits exactly the needs of the CEO. Knowing what the CEO expects from the training will come from asking them the question in the run up to the training. Knowing what they need (which is something different altogether) will be based on input from the CEO but also on observations of past performances from both the PR Manager and the trainer.
While the trainer will carry most of the training, the PR Manager will play an active role as well on two important levels, as the person who can inform and remind the CEO of the communications policies and resources that are in place and as a high-level counselor on proactive and reactive company messages.
Although some might find that a CEO should not be bothered with information on for example the difference between “off the record” and “deep background” rules of engagement and how exclusives are negotiated, because there is PR staff to handle this for him or her, I have always found it useful and even necessary to include this in the scoop of the training. The better the CEO understands the actual reality of media relations on the floor, the more fruitful any future collaboration between the CEO and the PR Manager will be.
Written by Jo Detavernier.
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