Future CEOs Definitely Need Lessons in PR

Jul 19, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Founder & Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk

As tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil were gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the remnants of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, which had exploded in April 2010, British Petroleum’s CEO Tony Hayward told reporters, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” (Personally, I would rather have seen the 11 workers who died when the platform exploded and all the sea birds and turtles that drowned in oil get their lives back.)

Heedless of the public relations disaster he was creating for BP, Hayward became infamous for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, fueling public fury at BP. Perhaps jumping before he was pushed, he stepped down four months later.

As evidenced by this and all the insensitive comments Wall Street CEOs have made throughout past half decade, top execs could do with a lesson or ten in PR. And now, with the help of the Public Relations Society of America, five universities are launching a program that targets future executives – while they’re still working on their MBAs.

The business schools at Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Texas, Quinnipiac and University of Maryland each will offer a PR course as an elective starting in the fall of 2012. That’s a brilliant idea, since, as PRSA board member Joe Cohen points out in the article, 80% of MBA programs don’t have PR courses.

Don’t you find it astonishing that these so-called “Masters of the Universe,” who are such prominent media fixtures and figureheads of their companies, continue to make one reputation-mangling public statement after another? And where are their PR people? Perhaps their hubris and the luxurious bubbles that separate them from the rest of us make them feel invulnerable.

Mitt Romney, former Bain Capital CEO and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has had a similar problem in his campaign. He has a history of making public comments – such as January’s “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” comment to the Nashua, NH Chamber of Commerce – that reinforce his image as a multi-multimillionaire out of touch with the sufferings of the working and middle classes.

Of course, it’s a company owner’s prerogative to fire an underperforming or misbehaving employee. But saying that you enjoy being able to fire people to a nation battling an unemployment crisis – while you are trying to win their votes – is, from a PR standpoint, insane.

The takeaway: your reputation is one of your most valuable assets, even if you’re not a Wall Street titan.

Forget putting your foot in your mouth. Think before opening your mouth.

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