The sidekick every CEO needs: a PR professional with the superpower of Foresight

I believe that foresight is one of the most important traits for effective public relations. Not only designing a message and implementing it, but predicting how it will be interpreted (and misinterpreted). Especially over the last two months, foresight seems to be the watchword for business, and especially for the CEOs and spokespersons brave enough to step in front of the media. Pundits and cameras are everywhere, CEO beware.

Look no further than the oil spill in the gulf and the huge amount of public anger at BP. One cannot deny that the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, has certainly done much more to stroke the fires of public ire at BP than to put out those fires. To make matters worse, many of his comments since the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, such as his suggestion that “[t]he Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume” or “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest,” have been construed as technically accurate, but misleading[1]. These comments have fed critics that point out that BP has always been conservative to a fault about trying to estimate the damage of the oil. Add on top of that Hayward’s recent comment that he “wants his life back,” and the hole keeps on getting deeper.

This incident perfectly illustrates why every CEO need good public relations counsel, now more than ever. In a world where every word and sentence is closely scrutinized, cut, and rerun, effective communication and messaging is crucial.

And this doesn’t just apply to huge crises, either. Take, for example, a recent speech given by the CEO of HP, which has recently acquired smartphone maker Palm. CEO Mark Hurd mentioned that HP had no interest in the smartphone business, and bought Palm instead for their other technology[2]. Less than a day later, and after a decent amount of hullabaloo in the online tech world, HP released a statement that said that they were still interested in development in smartphones[3]. A crisis? Not really. It was, however, certainly embarrassing, and could have been avoided with a little foresight and a conversation with a PR professional.

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