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Lift Your Public Persona

By MICHAEL MINK Posted 12/20/2010 04:53 PM ET

When the publicity spotlight finds your company, your skills can maximize a good situation or salvage a bad one. Here’s how:

Be prepared. Before facing the media and public, know exactly what you want to say by crafting your message in detail. This includes anticipating questions. Ask yourself: How do we want our customers or stakeholders to see us?

“It’s too easy for anyone in the C-suite or for a spokesperson to say the wrong thing publicly, and the damage can be significant,” Jeff Ansell, co-author of “When the Headline Is You,” told IBD.

“When John Walter was named CEO of AT&T (T) (in 1996), a reporter at the news conference asked who his service provider is. Walter didn’t know and within four hours of that exchange, AT&T’s market cap plummeted $4 billion. And that was supposed to be a good news story,” Ansell said.

How to avoid that? “Don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t want to see out there publicly,” said Frances Cole Jones, founder of Cole Media Management.

Practice messages. Do this out loud and get feedback. Rehearse answers and ways to move the conversation to the points you want to convey. “Recognize that the first words out of your mouth form the first draft of the story,” Ansell said.

Jones suggests practicing in front of a mirror, especially when doing telephone interviews. “This will remind you to smile and your voice will follow, making you much more interesting to listen to,” she said.

Another benefit: If someone asks you about something that makes you feel tense, “you’re going to see your face tense up, and that’s going to remind you to take a breath and then speak,” she said.

Be accessible. This is especially true when a crisis emerges.

“Not engaging media only leaves your critics with an open field, allowing them to hammer home their messages while you’re hiding behind the door,” Ansell said.

In good times, Jones says, no media opportunity or event is too small. Consider doing all you can.

Follow social media. Dedicate corporate resources to monitor the Web, Ansell said, and respond accordingly: “See what people are saying, and more often than not engage bloggers in conversation. Like Mark Twain said, ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.'”

Jones said, “Tweet wisely or forever hold your peace. Consumers have the power to talk back, and companies need to realize that.”

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