Friday, June 27, 2008

Leadership and the Media

"How could the U.S. military be such an outstanding fighting force -- so good at all the other grim jobs of war -- and be so politically dense and media-illiterate? My closest friends, people I would fight and die for, know less about the power of a photo than I know about sewing drapes."
From Michael Yon's "Moment of Truth in Iraq."

It is not a soldier's natural tendency to be media-literate. Most military leaders have grown up in a culture that suggests that the media is the enemy, that they never get the story right, and that they have no place on the modern battlefield. The truth, as Michael Yon weaves throughout his reporting on how the American military has adapted its tactics in Iraq, is that the media is a critical element of an overall communication strategy. Leaders at all levels, from the top to the trenches, must be mindful of the importance of dealing with the media.

I just finished helping out in a training course in Washington that included some great discussions on media and communication. It started with this wonderful reminder of "A Way" to deal with the media.

Hooah! Now, this approach is likely only to work for General Honore. It is straight talk and he definitely stays "on message" -- but most of us probably cannot pull this off. For the rest of us, these points from my trainer and media expert friend (thanks DeDe!) are worth remembering:

-- Prepare - work with your public relations staff and do your homework. Don't go in cold.

-- Be yourself - let your hands do what comes naturally. Express your passion. Most media encounters are not a briefing. People need to know that you're a human being first and foremost.

-- Know your audience. Look into the camera, speak to the interviewer, but know who you are trying to reach.

-- Check your appearance - Unless you are General Honore, lose the sunglasses! Have a professional appearance that is consistent with your message.

-- Use talking points. Have 2-3 messages and supporting talking points ready to go that are relevant to the subject matter, concise, memorable and SIMPLE. Maintain control. If you don't know, say "I don't know" - don't speculate. Bridge to your message with statements like: "What I can talk about" or "what's interesting to note is...."

--Stay in your lane. Refer to someone else who can answer or explain that you'll look into it and get back to them - then bridge to what you want to talk about.

--Remember that all questions are professional, not personal. Keep your attitude and desire to defend your ideas to yourself. Remain friendly and non-defensive. There's a diplomatic way to say everything.

Michael Yon says that our military is finally "getting it" in Iraq. The media is not the enemy. Leaders who understand and are comfortable with communication and know that the media is vital to winning in the arena of ideas are finally making a difference.

It's no different in other arenas. The training I was a part of last week was terrific. I've given dozens of TV, radio, and print media interviews, yet needed the refresher course. We all need reminders of how to get our message out in a variety of media forums. Don't be "stuck on stupid." Be comfortable dealing with the media. That's Leader Business. Hooah!

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