Buffett ‘Gets’ Crisis Communications

28 06 2011

The Oracle of OmahaBuffett understands crisis communications … and has advice for us.

I’m not talking about one of our favorite entertainers, Jimmy Buffett … the singer and songwriter, aviator, author and bon vivant of Margaritaville fame …

… but about legendary investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett — the primary shareholder, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway — and one of the world’s wealthiest people.

(… not that Jimmy isn’t swimming in a sea of cash as well.)

Warren Buffett clearly understands the power of positive communications strategy in times of crisis. He demonstrated this, when he gave some timeless advice to CEOs while being interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box a few months ago, in response to a question about Toyota’s recall issue.

Here’s what the “Oracle of Omaha” cited as the best practices in crisis communications:

  1. Get it right
  2. Get it fast
  3. Get it out, and
  4. Get it over.

Simple, clear, decisive … and golden advice from someone who understands gold … and the golden rule.

Mr. Buffett is also reported to have offered another gem for CEOs, management executives and their communicators: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Got it?

Three Ways to Be More Quotable

7 06 2011

Your PR folks have done the groundwork. They’ve introduced you to key media, they’ve positioned you as an expert in your field and they’ve provided reporters with a list of trends and issues about which you can provide valuable commentary. And a few days ago, you did the media interview you wanted.

In viewing the resulting story, however, you’re disappointed that the reporter did not quote you — in spite of the facts that you spent more than an hour with him and you provided what you thought was brilliant insight.

There are a number of reasons this can occur: (see related post). Sometimes it’s due to the space allocated to the story or to the editing process, and there’s not much you can do. But sometimes, it’s related to what you said … or how you said it. For example, after the reporter had talked to a number of sources, you may not have added anything new to the story. Or you may have provided good information, but said it in a way that was too awkward or too complex for the reporter to use a direct quote.

While there are no guarantees in PR, here are three ways to enhance the likelihood that you will get quoted:

1)      Prepare for the interview by thinking about your key messages. Ask yourself: “If there are three things I want the reporter to take away from the interview, what would those messages – in 20 words or less each — be?” Write them down. Then spend the necessary time to hone them into meaty sound bites that bring your message to life. They should be concise, conversational in tone and colorful in that they paint a mental picture. Keep working with these messages until they are direct, impactful and memorable.

 2)      At the onset of the interview, ask the reporter who else she/he has talked to for this story, what key points they made, and then build upon what the reporter already knows. If necessary, steer your input toward new territory and perspective, so you don’t cover the exact same ground as others already have. If you’re the first – or only – person being interviewed on a certain angle, you’ll have more opportunities to be quoted.

 3)      Hit the bottom line first … and use analogies, which summarize your story and bring your points to life, when possible.

Once, in a media interview, a client spent more than an hour talking about the painstaking technical work conducted over the past 15 years to implement electronic data interchange across the auto industry. Seeing the reporter was sinking into the quicksand of frustration, the interviewee finally threw the reporter the lifeline he needed, with a simple summary analogy: “Thanks to 15 years of industry collaboration, EDI now works as well as email. While it’s not perfect, it gets the job done, it’s more accurate and it’s five times faster than the old way.”

Often, the reporter will start the interview by saying: “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today …” and then they will either leave an opening or go right into their first question.

Either way, take the opportunity to hit your most important key message (or messages) upfront

Say: “Thanks, (reporter’s name), for the opportunity to talk about our company’s relentless pursuit of innovation. We drive new ideas like NASCAR’s Carl Edwards drives his #99 Ford – hard, relentless and focused on a win. And because of that, we have earned more new product patents than all of our competitors combined. Now, to answer your question, the way we encourage that kind of innovation

Remember Mark Twain once described the concept of a good sound bite, long before the term came into use: “a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.”

Not only does his advice make sense, it makes for good quotes.


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