Just over a year removed from the greatest bull market in US history, much has changed in the relationship between the press and the corporation.The explosions at Enron and other companies have created a blow-back effect, decimating the level of trust and professionalism inherent in making the press-company partnership work. The abrupt shift brings to mind the changing relationship between the press and the President before and after Watergate.
As investors call for their political constituents to act and reform corporate oversight, it has become an uncomfortable time for corporate communications executives to operate. The chain of command that extends from the tops of corporations, to corporate communications, to the press, and to the individual investor has been broken. How do you figure out what the real issues are for a more skeptical media? And how can you make sure that the information executives disclose is not only vetted by higher-ups, but verifiable?
In talking with clients, I have found that the onus on giving credible information is greater than ever. Corporate communications executives are often just the messengers from a CFO or CEO, and yet they are often given information assumed to be accurate. Now executives are dealing with a press that, at least in some instances, feels it has been taken advantage of.
Another thing corporate communications officers need to understand is that the distribution of hyperbolic or marginal news will not be tolerated.
Judicious use of new information is a must since you're now addressing a far different and skeptical audience than one or two years ago. To accomplish this, officers need to have a higher line of reporting within their companies than they presently have.
If corporate communications directors are truly responsible for disseminating accurate data, then a relationship with the highest level of the executive branch inside a company needs to be established. A relationship with a mid-level intermediary can jeopardize the very information that is up for future scrutiny. Reports from a Wall Street analyst, for instance, need to be put under more due diligence. Quarterly reports need to be vetted again and again not only to ensure they've been properly audited, but also checked by top financial officials.
Financial journalists, as a group, are hurt by the fact that they were taken in the way they were during the bull market. It is vital that corporate communications executives understand their current state of mind when discussing future issues. And this cannot be done by simply using electronic forums.
To rebuild a strong relationship between the media and communications executives, this must be done in person, in one-on-one meet-and-greets.
While a phone call is a good first step, it's now time to take that extra step to reestablish the trust that has been jeopardized by what might seem (to you and me) to be outside, secondary factors.
For example, a communications director may feel as if his or her company had nothing to do with the corporate meltdown of some more highly publicized firms, and doesn't have anything to apologize for when it comes to the press. But all journalists have changed their MO - not just the ones covering Enron and Global Crossing.
So be straightforward with reporters when issuing news and announcements.
While we possess the ability to distribute information more easily and quickly than ever, it's important to remember some of the more basic, tried-and-true ways of winning over the press. A handshake over a drink or at a conference can go a much longer way in reestablishing relationships than a mass e-mail.