Dec. 12, 2018 — It’s a staple of White House communications. Journalists are invited into the Oval Office to hear remarks from the president and make photographs. In exchange, reporters can ask a few questions. And then, like cranky bar tenders ushering out patrons after last call, staffers shoo journalists out of the office as reporters yell questions at the president.
The presidency is draped in dignified behavior, from the playing of “Hail to the Chief” at public appearances to the requirement that all stand when the nation’s highest elected official enters the room. But the abrupt conclusion of media opportunities in the president’s office is even more awkward than the pardoning of a turkey each November.
Few CEOs will ever be subjected to the media attention the president faces, but the contentious media opportunities in the Oval Office offer two lessons for the captains of industry when being interviewed by reporters.
Out of office
First, CEOs should be interviewed anywhere but in their offices. Find another location, maybe a nearby conference room. Today’s open office environments offer plenty of alternatives.
Reporters will often want to see the CEO’s office. The books on the shelf, the photos on the credenza, even the coffee cup, all say something about the person. It’s OK to spend a minute or two with the reporter in the CEO’s office but then quickly move to another location to begin the question-and-answer session. This enables the CEO to make a graceful and unimpeded exit at the end of the interview, not unlike a news conference.
Second, CEOs, or their media relations representatives, should establish a time limit for all interviews, especially when meeting face-to-face with reporters. An Outlook meeting invitation is all that’s needed to let the reporter know when you expect to conclude the conversation. It’s only fair that reporters know how much time they have to ask questions. Furthermore, this makes it easy for CEOs to conclude their responses at the predetermined time. Besides, if the interview is going well, the CEO can continue past the deadline. It’s unlikely the reporter will complain.
The CEO’s media relations representative should attend the interview. In addition to being witness to what is said, the PR person can act as timekeeper, lifting the burden from the CEO to stay on schedule. If necessary, the media relations representative can also facilitate the reporter’s exit, hopefully in a more subtle and dignified manner than the aides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.