Compared with many of their executive peers, CIOs often appear to avoid media exposure. Given that all too many IT stories in the mainstream media seem to focus on failures and cost overruns, this is understandable. But it’s still misguided.
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God!, the British journalist, but, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.” The poet Humbert Wolfe’s famous epigram about the ethics of British journalists sums up rather well how many CIOs feel about dealing with the media – and not only in the UK.
Let’s be honest: IT hasn’t always had a great press. It tends to hit the headlines following a high-profile project failure, a breach of data security or a massive budget overspend. The natural instinct of many CIOs to tread warily when it comes to the media is certainly understandable.
Accentuate the positive
Understandable, but misguided. The fact is that those CIOs willing to interact with the media can reap some valuable rewards. For example, have you ever considered that positive media experiences can do wonders for your reputation? That’s good for the company, naturally, but it is also good for the CIO as an individual. It raises your profile, establishes you as a figure of authority, and enhances your reputation as a CIO that colleagues – and employers – would want to work for and with.
So how is it done? Here are eight tips for managing your media exposure:
- Start with the right attitude. Not all journalists are out to trip you up. In most cases, the media wants to talk to you to get the benefit of your expertise, or even to champion your achievements. You should be pleased that the media is interested, rather than suspicious of its motives.
- Think about a media strategy. Are there particular media outlets – specialist publications or online sites, for example – in which it would be particularly valuable to get coverage? What sort of narrative can you offer to get their attention?
- Develop your basic communication skills. Drop the jargon, concentrate on the message you want to get across and do so concisely. And be prepared to listen to what journalists have to say too.
- Work closely with your company’s communications team. Your marketing, press office, external PR agency and so on are there to help ensure that your dealings with the media don’t breach corporate policies and reflect the business’ media strategy. You may not always agree with their views, but you’ll often find you can learn a new trick or two about how to put your views across.
- Equally, don’t be a robot. Think about what a particular media outlet wants from you – their needs will differ – and be prepared to say something interesting.
- Get media training. If you’re not confident about your ability to deal with the media, ask for specialist training. Make sure it covers the different ways in which a CIO may interact with the media – for example, as an industry commentator, a spokesman for the company or an author of specialist content.
- Remember that journalists are driven by deadlines. They will appreciate speedy responses and CIOs who make themselves available. But feel free to set some ground rules: if you want a list of questions in advance, ask for one. If you want the right to see how your views are going to be quoted, say so upfront. And don’t fall into the trap of playing the off-the-record game. You’ll get caught out.
- Finally, if you do have to deal with the media over a negative story, don’t panic. Have all the information to hand, be honest and straightforward in your explanations, and be prepared to apologize if it is the right thing to do.
Share your experiences of working with the media in the comments below.