The Financial Times Web site today has four short columns addressing some interesting questions -- To what extent should CEOs engage with the media? Should business leaders be vocal in pressing their case via the airwaves and newsprint? Or should they avoid the potentially negative exposure? Three of the four writers argue that CEOs should talk to the press. As Paul A. Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College writes, "I am amazed that anyone could seriously question whether business leaders should engage with the public. It's mission critical. ... The reputation of corporations and their leaders is at an all-time low. How much more evidence do business leaders need to recognize that communicating with the general public, as well as customers, employees and shareholders is mandatory?" The only writer who suggested that CEOs not take a high profile with the media is Tom Maddocks, founder and course director of Media Training Associates. But he doesn't let them off the hook completely. He argues that CEOs should prepare someone else within the company to deal with the media.
The CEO cannot do everything, so work hard to find and train the individuals one or two levels down, part of whose role should be to take more media opportunities -- even when there are tough issues -- and patiently put the organisation's view across. They must not pretend their company always gets everything right, but come over as a sympathetic and reasonable presence to journalists and across the airwaves. Companies will then have the chance of building the public and political support on which they ultimately rely.We deal with a wide variety of CEOs -- some are very comfortable with the media, some would prefer that their names and their company names never appear in print, under any circumstance. It may appear self-serving for me to suggest that CEOs should engage the media. But I'll say it anyway. It's one of those snippets of business wisdom that you all know is true, even if you're not always comfortable in that role. Remember, if you don't participate in the debate, you can't complain about no one giving your side. And have you noticed that some of the most successful companies have CEOs who are skilled at dealing with communities outside their organizations, including the media?