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Building Credibility in Dark Moments

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In times of crisis, it’s easy for leaders to cast aside communications to focus on fixing the problem. That’s not only a mistake, but a missed opportunity to bolster credibility.

Recently, members of our Financial Services sector in New York attended a panel discussion held by Gorkana, a global company providing media intelligence and analysis, on the “The Role of Financial Journalism in the 21st Century” featuring Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times Editor-at-Large and CNBC Host; Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor at The Financial Times; and Jason Zweig, columnist for The Wall Street Journal. One underlying theme was the challenge facing leaders today, with Sorkin noting that “credibility gets built in dark moments,” that is as leaders face up and communicate clearly about their organizations’ challenges. It is an important observation and one that often gets lost between the board meetings and day-to-day demands of running the company.

According to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, Financial Services remains one of the least trusted industries and CEO credibility is on the decline. For anyone counseling senior leadership in today’s landscape, these findings are not surprising as there seems to always be a new crisis emerging within the industry. With issues such as LIBOR suits, pressure from shareholders and regulators, product defects and personal issues increasingly gracing the covers of today’s front pages (and landing pages), CEOs need to prepare for and continually anticipate what is lurking around the corner. Many leaders will come away from these public trials with their reputations bruised and with a long road ahead of them in terms of rebuilding. However, there are other leaders who will recognize these challenges as an opportunity to build their credibility and turn a potential black eye into a moment of triumph.

While there are numerous legal and operational factors for leaders to consider during turbulent times, here are three key insights from these influential journalists on what they want from CEOs in today’s environment:

“Humanize yourself”Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor, The Financial Times
Today’s C-suite looks one dimensional and without a sense of humility. Many CEOs don’t get much exposure to journalists, which can be very problematic when situations arise that require them to speak with the media (generally, these are the most important and sensitive moments for a company). Speaking with the media is an art form that needs to be cultivated. CEOs need to be “let out into the wild” to interact with reporters on a more regular basis. Mistakes will happen but this also helps CEOs come across as more human. As journalists want humans at the center of their stories, the CEO is often the most compelling messenger.

“Credibility is built in dark moments”Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times Editor-at-Large and CNBC Host
No leader wants to be the one to announce negative news, but in today’s age of transparency it is the first thing that needs to be discussed. A CEO’s willingness to be open – in both good times and bad – is what builds trust and establishes their credibility in the eyes of the public.

“There is danger in drinking the social media Kool-Aid”Jason Zweig, columnist, The Wall Street Journal
Journalism is now being driven more by what actual consumers think and want to know and less by the demands of advertisers. We are now able to engage with readers in a way never done before, but there is danger in pandering to an audience simply to increase your social metrics. While social trends are becoming important indicators that inform coverage, there remains space for other, important stories that may not have the same resonance across the social landscape.

Together, these comments point to an increasing need for financial services companies to leverage CEOs to tell their story to the media. Ideally, CEOs will embrace these conversations and see them as opportunities rather than liabilities or interruptions.

So, fellow communications professionals, do you think your client is prepared to tackle the next big crisis? What is their CEO’s mindset on working with the media and what do you need to do to guide them in the right direction?

We have an opportunity in this area to show direct business value in getting companies prepared in advance to avoid massive missteps when the inevitable crisis moment occurs.

Marisa Pincas is a vice president in Edelman’s Financial Services sector at Edelman New York.
Frank Lentini is a senior account supervisor in Edelman’s Financial Services sector at Edelman New York.

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