Persuading the Whining Executive

Here’s an often posed question from public affairs and communications officers seeking media training for their top executives: “How on earth can I get them to take this seriously?”

There are two tracks toArm wrestle this answer, one internal, the other external. On the internal front, you as the resident expert must work to develop legitimacy over time. Providing trusted counsel in situations both routine and crisis-oriented helps you establish your bona fides. Unless you walk in the door with a stellar reputation, it will, frankly, take you some time to develop trust and rapport with your executives. When you are viewed as the go-to expert on communications matters, your recommendations, including those involving media training, will be accepted much more readily.

As for the external factors, first and foremost, select an honest-to-goodness communications training consultant — an expert dedicated to the craft of training, messaging, and strategy, not a generalist just out to make a quick buck off you. Then, let your spokespeople know your thought behind the choice, and give them some background on your consultant. He should be able to provide information about books, research reports, position papers, and other materials he has authored. Of course, also send his web site address to those he will be working with.

Further, seek out a consultant who is — not to put too fine a point on things — an adult. Quaking and shaking while giving advice in a meek voice does not inspire confidence. While being diplomatic, he cannot be afraid of speaking truth to power when necessary. In fact, part of my standing deal with clients is to alert me to any issues they are having with particular individuals. It may be anything from a failure to take media relations seriously to an annoying nonverbal habit. Knowing of these peculiarities in advance allows me to bring them to the fore during our work together (with none of the internal communicator’s fingerprints visible), raise them diplomatically, and deal with them effectively.

Best of all, selecting the right consultant gives you a double win. Not only does it strengthen your messaging and your executives’ communications skills, it also reflects well on you, bolstering your internal reputation as the resident communications expert.

That’s admittedly a quick trip to a nuanced question. What other ideas do you have when trying to persuade your executives to look at media training as a positive experience, both for them and for your business?

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