Thick Skin

October 10, 2009

Thick Skin

  Reputations are sometimes left in the hands of the media, bloggers or Twitterers. And that is not always good. In a WSJ interview with the turnaround CEO of Delphi, Robert “Steve ” Miller, was asked about communicating when your company is in bankruptcy. He replied:

“I was very outspoken when we went into Chapter 11. But there was a lot of pushback and criticism. We made the decision to shut up. But if I had to do it all over again, I would keep speaking out. When you are in a controversial situation, you are going to be criticized whatever you do.

The critics said, “Steve Miller is the devil incarnate,” and we said, “No comment.” The only thing left out there for the public was the notion of a devil.”

Miller underscores the importance of engaging critics because if not, your enemies get the last word. CEOs are constantly confronted with this conundrum and especially when legal counsel is involved or regulators are part of the equation, as they are today. However, sometimes it makes sense to figure out what you can talk about that is not controversial and speak up.  Thought leadership platforms are tailor-made for these times. The best antidote is having a senior management team with a thick skin because the critics will always be out their with their pitchforks.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Paul Seaman
    Posted at 22:37h, 11 October Reply

    I agree with you. One of the great arts of PR is managing silence. Knowing when to speak and when not to – as any salesperson knows – is as important as knowing what to say to whom.The accident at Three Mile Island, for instance, was made ten times worse because the plant’s operators spoke out reassuringly on the first day of the accident. Since then, few people have understand that the panic that TMI caused resulted from over-communication of each half-understood contradictory “worsening” report from inside the plant. Had the PRs (let’s blame their bosses) waited a little longer, two or three tough days even, or just put out a day-one holding statement saying little more than “we’re investigating what’s happened”, perhaps nuclear power would not have experienced a 30-year worldwide reputation meltdown. Sometimes, near-silence, caution and slow are wise choices.

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