Staying on Message

Executives who have to face the fire on programs such as CNBC's "Squawk Box" are well trained to stay on message.  That's why they're always worth watching.

Think of it like a free post-doc in how to get your point across in difficult matter what anyone throws at you.

So, whether it's in preparation for your first media appearance or you're going in front of your friendly local VC, C-level executive or Board members - you want to know what your message is and then keep to it.  Through thick and thin.

An excellent example was when Cisco's CEO, John Chambers faced the CNBC fire to give a very different perspective than the one the analysts had chosen to adopt.  Even though, as he was speaking, his company's share value had taken a 12% drop in morning trade.

His key message throughout:  We control our own destiny.

By stating and re-stating that - supported by all sorts of data for all the different markets in which Cisco plays - his purpose was to allay fears that market forces would drive the company's valuation and performance down further.  And then further.

I don't know if it will work over the long term.  After all, it has most recently resulted in the shut-down of the Flip video camera and laying off of 550 people.  But it is a great example of the messaging art.

The resource below will get you to the All Things Digital page with the video.


John Chambers Plays Defense as Cisco's Shares Tumble (ATD)

Executive Messaging: Learning from the LibDems

As I mentioned in my most recent Newsletter, the British General Elections have been called and election day has been set for May 6th.  Now it's time to watch how the messaging is managed by the political parties.

This is always a good lesson for executives.  It's worth seeing how those who are spending inordinate amounts of money work to make their particular case - for themselves as well as for their party.

It's a vision thing.  Not just saying it - but helping others to see it.

It's also a values thing.  By going positive or negative, a tone and direction are set for where the constituency - whether voters or shareholders and employees - understand the enterprise to be going and how it will get there.

And finally, it's a trust thing.  Because when all is said and done, your people - those constituencies again - look to you to determine whether they can trust what you're saying and where you're taking the enterprise.

That's why the new ad from the Liberal Democrats is such a good example of how it's done when it's done well.

It's balanced yet hopeful.  The focus is on the Party's Leader, Nick Clegg, but the language is inclusive and the message is personally directed to the viewer/listener.  There's a sense of movement - including the way he walks through the "litter" of broken promises by the other parties - all going in a new direction.  One in which he is taking them.

It's also low budget.  Probably the biggest expense was getting all the papers all over the streets and then getting them cleaned up afterwards.  (I'm putting my money on all of it being recycled, too - even any computer generated litter.)

What's most important about how this was positioned is that it takes greatest advantage of the fact that the LibDems are:

  • the underdog party (third of three),
  • never taken seriously as a contender for leadership of the country (because the conventional wisdom has always been that it will always go either to the Labour or Conservative Parties), and
  • have a young, comparatively untried Party Leader going up against Leaders who are more experienced and well-known than he.
As a result, the LibDems had to nail a way of getting a larger population interested in doing something more and different than before - trusting in and voting for their Party.

You may have nothing to do with the British elections and even if you have no intention of doing a commercial or even a video-conference with your employees, this is worth the watch.  It's a great lesson in how to get your message across to your people that they're in the right place, that you're the right leader and that it is well worth their time, action and trust to follow where you're taking them and the enterprise.

Clegg and the LibDems succeeding in nailing how an executive can present him- or her- self as a trusted leader.  It will give you food for thought as you consider how you want to message the future of your organization to your employees and investors.