Sticking one’s head above the parapet

In the world of business-critical communications, especially at times of corporate crisis, there can sometimes be a perception that ‘the CEO has gone missing.’

However direct communications from those at the top are now very much the norm. Take two recent high-profile CEO crisis communications picked up by mainstream and social media – one, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg online piece on the recent 737 Max accidents, the other by Carlos Ghosn, the now former Nissan and Renault Chairman, and his online plea of innocence of any alleged wrong-doing following his arrest in Japan on charges of financial misconduct.

We often advocate for CEOs to be visible, in touch, in tune and ultimately on top of situations like these. We talk about getting out the company’s version of events, direct to critical audiences, on a timely basis. We point out that this form of communication enables the company to provide direct source material to its audiences. But these days, more importantly it demonstrates commitment and, in most cases, promotes greater understanding of the issues the companies face.

It should enable the media to do a better job too, armed with not just a raft of analyst opinion but with attributable material. Put simply, you get the view from the top – where the buck often stops. So, for these reasons alone, if a little bit tardy as the Seattle Times reports, Muilenberg’s address should be commended.

There’s something quite impassioned about the Carlos Ghosn video missive. It uses the medium to seemingly get straight to the heart of the matter and to the heart of his intended audiences. And in doing so, bypass the rumour mills and unnamed sources the global media are apt to rely on. He talks with conviction. The performance is accomplished and dramatic – understandable given his position – and compelling.

Compelling enough for some to publish almost in full - seven minutes thirty-seven seconds of slightly edited footage, so as not to fall foul of the defamation laws. The BBC has been a little more guarded, creating a one minute twenty-eight seconds edited version for broadcast, presumably for the same reasons as well as not to transgress their own editorial guidelines.

It is clear both productions were about regaining or seizing lost ground. Are they to be believed? They both lack any editorial challenge – which is where presumably the journalist and analyst will no doubt reappear stage right – if of course either CEOs are at liberty to accept that challenge.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.

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