When CEOs drop the PR protection

Posted on January 30, 2012

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I say CEOs, mainly because I’m about to use Rupert Murdoch as an example, but any senior exec or official can more than ever work around the PR force field most big organisations have.

This morning I read one of the best pieces I’ve so far seen on this from David Carr in the New York Times (‘A Glimpse of Murdoch Unbound’).

Some have said Murdoch’s roller coaster ride on Twitter since he joined about a month ago is bad news for News Corp. Others – most ordinary people interested in him and his business – think it’s great to get what feels like jump cables right into the man’s unedited thinking.

Why “bad news” for his company? There’s the assumption that anything off message outweighs the benefits of the directness, openness and – in Twitter’s case – brevity of what he might say. Not to mention he is able to have a dialogue, either with other A-listers or anyone else having a pop at @rupertmurdoch.

I don’t think this is about the medium. Years ago a direct line to the press (as in an actual telephone line and number) was equally unusual and controversial for big companies. I remember way back hearing the story about two US car rental companies. One had what came to be a modern comms set up – with layers of marketing and PR surrounding every utterance from the CEO and other management. The other company’s boss, within reason, gave the press his direct line.

As a reporter, access is everything. For all the best practice and money spent by the first company, guess who gained the upper hand with the media. Guess what his PR bill was each month.

Big caveat time: This all goes to show that the machinery of a lot of modern PR isn’t always necessary. But sometimes it is, much as it cloaks what is really going on, what outsiders – especially media – want to know.

If you’re the right kind of CEO, an uncensored, undiluted mouthpiece to the world can be a great asset. In which camp does Rupert Murdoch fall?

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