Raving PR Fan on Groupon CEO’s 60 Minutes Interview

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in General, Lessons, Management | 0 comments

When I worked for a Fortune 500 company’s corporate communications department one of the few calls we wanted to take was from a CBS producer of 60 Minutes, the expose television news magazine. A call like that would make most CEOs cringe. It kept corporate communicators up at night for weeks preparing for the best interview possible.

I’m not sure if Andrew Mason, the 30-something CEO of three-year old Groupon, cringed when he got the call, but his interview underscores the importance of media training. He may be cringing now. 

The company went public last fall with an $18 billion valuation. It has 10k employees and sells ‘group coupons’ in 46 countries. Here is what I would offer as a “Raving PR Fan” to Mason and his team of corporate communication pro’s.

Never repeat negative or accusing words, especially if you want your market cap to trend north. “It’s not fair to say it was not an honest revenue figure.” Or “…we’d be more cunning and subtle in evil  ways.”

Seize the opportunity to tell the reporter what kind of a CEO you are instead of answering a baited question.  When asked “Are you as mature and smart as other CEOs”? Don’t start with: “No, probably not.” 

Only release a video or image that can add value to your brand. Make sure home videos stay home. I’m not sure how 60 Minutes got (or found) a video of Mason doing yoga in his underwear in front of a Christmas tree.

Assume that anything written to an employee audience will be made public. At least one in 10,000 will leak it. No matter the urge to communicate to your stakeholders a quiet period is a quiet period when preparing for an IPO. Choose a better answer than describing to Leslie Stahl that your “mouth was taped shut.”

Stick to simple analogies that make your point.  Eluding to a “wolverine whose skin melted off” gave her joy on air when she asked viewers: “What does that mean?” Stahl made a huge point to her story by not clarifying the comment prior to airing it. As a corporate communicator, I would have tried real hard to clarify for her right after the interview, or even better, convince her this statement added nothing to the story and ask  for it not to be aired.  At that point, all you can do is ask.

When asked about your personal worth on IPO day, have a respectful (or appreciative) answer. Leslie Stahl asked if Mason knew how much his personal net worth was on IPO day ($1.3 billion). Mason said “I checked once and I felt dirty,” with a smile. Is that a Midwesterner’s answer? Take one for the team and turn the answer into the bigger picture. Attribute an overall stock value to the hard work of your 10,000 employees and to a promising new industry.

In hindsight, maybe it would have been smart to delay a 60 Minutes interview request until the company has 1) turned a profit or until 2) answers to these and other similarly expected interview questions can be better rehearsed?  See: http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/main3415.shtml

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