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MEDIA TRAINING: WHEN MESSAGING GOES WRONG

  August 18, 2022

Media training is for the proactive executive who wants to face the media with confidence and the ability to control the messaging.  And just as important, media training is the GPS for getting back on the right road after an executive's messaging crashes.  This could be external or internal messaging.  

Here are some recent examples of off-track messaging:

  • Six Flags CEO Selim Bassoul took heat after a call with investors in which he reportedly compared park guests to Kmart and Walmart customers; he added that Six Flags should transform into a place for Target customers.  Customers took to social media to call this "classist."  I get that he's trying to upgrade park experiences.  But I believe this messaging is insulting.  
  • In a podcast the outgoing CEO of Whole Foods accused young people of not wanting to work.  He says they want "meaningful work" and they shouldn't expect that in the beginning of their careers.  I would argue that this type of messaging isn't going to help their labor shortage.  The pandemic changed a lot of workers' perspectives and corporations need to deal with that.  
  • An Alabama veterinarian damaged her reputation as a caring professional thanks to a TikTok post.  She named five dog breeds she would never own.  I know if I had one of those breeds I would not be patronizing her clinic.  I'm sure she's not the only vet to prefer certain breeds over others.  But this messaging is alienating clients and potential clients.
  • The British magazine The Economist insulted a prominent Arab actress when it included a photo of her in an article entitled, "Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world." Guess they didn't know Enas Taleb has 9 million instagram followers. That not-too-subtle messaging did not sit well with those followers. The actress did not grant them permission to use her image and now she is taking legal action.  
  • A CEO posted a photo of himself crying  to illustrate how badly he felt about laying off an employee.  He defended the post after social media mocked him. What kind of messaging is this sending to his other employees or future employees? To me it says that it's all about him. When the photo went viral, the employee received several job offers.  The CEO beamed that all the nasty comments were worth it.  

There are a number of steps an executive or company can do when their messaging goes off track.  

  • Issue a retraction.
  • Issue a public apology.
  • Issue a private, direct apology to an invidual.
  • Meet with impacted stakeholders to get their imput.
  • Draft an action plan to avoid these types of messaging mishaps in the future.
  • Diversify the executive team and be sure to get their input on corporate messaging.

No executive media training or crisis communications session can anticipate every scenario a company may experience.  But there are many crisis scenarios that can be roll-played.  It's so much better to be prepared for the worst, than having to be reactive when a crisis hits.

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