No doubt a lot of organizations these days are having to determine when and when not to speak out on social, political and other issues that gain prominence in the news. That’s setting aside for a moment the question of WHAT organizations might say publicly, if they decide to do so. In this past Sunday’s New York Times, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski did a pretty good job, I feel, of setting the boundaries for hot topics that McDonald’s will and won’t comment on. Asked “Where is the company on voting rights?”, Mr. Kempczinski’s reply included the following: “Is it either directly in our industry — which is an obvious one that we would comment on — or does it go specifically to the pillars that we’ve said are going to matter to us? So we’ve talked about jobs and opportunity. We’ve talked about helping communities in crisis. We’ve talked about planet. And we’ve talked about supporting local farmers and ranchers. Those are areas that we’ve said are specific to our business where we feel like we’ve got a role to play. If it’s outside of that, then there has to be a really good reason that us saying something can also be part of the solution.”
“Does it go specifically to the pillars that we’ve said are going to matter to us?”
— McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski
There’s more, but that’s the core of his answer. The interview doesn’t include a logical follow-up question, i.e., “Pillars aside, what do you do in instances where a portion of your workforce wants or expects the company to speak up?” From a messaging and reputation management standpoint, I believe this topic is going to get increasingly interesting as more and more young people who’ve grown up with social media and put their views on public display rise to the ranks of organizational leadership.
There are some good case studies and best-practice conversations to be had here, I’m sure.
Upon joining the Nuclear Energy Institute as media relations director some years ago — and running smack dab into the significant amount of jargon unique to the industry — one of the first things I did was ask a member of the design team to create a “Death to Acronyms” sign for me. He came back with a highly creative, 8″ x 10″ sign featuring skull-and-crossbones lettering that I hung on my wall for anyone and everyone entering my office to see. The sign served as a constant reminder to me — and I believe as a challenge to others — that effective communications hinged on our willingness and determination to take highly technical information endemic to the industry and convert it into concepts and messaging understandable by the layman.
This belief that technical matters need not remain technical is why this Dave Lieber column in The Dallas Morning News strikes a chord with me. Dave’s lament, “Translating ERCOT jargon is like rolling a boulder uphill,” is one that every communications professional — no matter what the industry or organization — needs to keep foremost in mind daily. Whether the deliverable is talking points, a news release, a tweet, a video, a fact sheet, media training, an infographic — it is incumbent upon communicators to translate information from the technical side of the house so that it is digestible by the general public. If we fail to do that, we’re not doing our jobs and merit the criticism voiced in this Morning News column.
If one simply is regurgitating what one is told without making the mental effort to ask oneself whether it is understandable and, if not, to make it so, then one needn’t be on the payroll. This responsibility is and always will be one of the fundamental aspects of media relations, public relations and marketing. Period.
As another season of NFL football kicks off tonight, it seems appropriate to take an enduring media relations tip from one of the game’s greatest, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In his appearance on the inaugural segment of “10 Questions with Kyle Brandt” last month, the future Hall of Famer was asked whether he has a general strategy or philosophy for dealing with the news media.
His reply is absolutely on point: i.e., be thoughtful, slow down, be respectful and, if possible, address your questioner by name. Former President Bill Clinton was the master of “taking a beat” before answering questions he fielded. If you really want to study the technique, dig up some old videotape of his press conferences and interviews. The two and one-half minute portion of Aaron’s discussion with Brandt relative to the news media picks up at the 46:50 mark of their lengthy conversation. Here’s the link to the podcast: https://lnkd.in/dDPtbUr