A PR Risk Pays Off

Sometimes, the job of the corporate, in-house PR staff is to protect the company’s executives from potentially dangerous situations. We’ve seen where that includes speaking only in scripted remarks or via statements drafted by both lawyers and communicators.

Other times, corporate, in-house PR staff has an opportunity to showcase an executive as the face of its company. Under the right circumstances, letting the executive talk in public forums can humanize the company’s message and build trust in its leadership. Last Friday, Ford Motor Company did just that with its President and CEO – an example worth examining.

Alan Mulally was was the featured speaker at a luncheon meeting at the Detroit Economic Club, hours before the Charity Preview for the North American International Auto Show. (Full Disclosure: Tanner Friedman handles media relations for all of the Detroit Economic Club’s events throughout the year, including the event that is the subject of this blog item). Since the beginning of the year, Mulally has spoken publicly at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Automotive News World Congress and in several interviews from the floor of the Auto Show’s media preview days.

The plan for this speech was simple – talk for about 10 minutes and then use the rest of the alloted time to take live questions from the audience. Some executives and their teams would look at that the same way they would view walking a tightrope 500 feet in the air. Not Mulally. He seemed to view it as an opportunity to connect with an audience. The 900 people in attendance “ate it up,” showing him respect and gratitude.

He didn’t say anything particularly different from what he had said in other venues over the last two weeks. In other words, he stayed on message. Here was a well trained, experienced leader who is used to being challenged via questions and knows how to answer them. As always, solid preparation and sound execution are imperative. He and his company let him use his talents to score PR points. It also resulted in some news coverage, like this Dow Jones story that ran worldwide, mentioning the fact that he took questions from the audience, broadening the appeal beyond the ballroom where he spoke. This is a reminder that when a company’s CEO can be a communications asset, it’s important to take advantage, without fear getting in the way.