PR Parables: When the Global CEO dismissed a global communication policy

When the communications staff of this organization was briefed by their local CEO that the global CEO would be visiting India, the team was curious and inquired about the announcements their global CEO would make. At that point of time, the plans were still being firmed up so the team was told to start working on drawing out the media plan for their global CEO. 

The communications team scurried around to fit news and purpose to the impending visit of their global CEO.  They did need one or two news pegs to hang the visit on. Given that press meets for global CEO's was and is intrinsically linked to big news. There are great expectations. From that perspective the comms team was tense. Up until now they had found no news hook.  

And then like manna from heaven, the CEO called the team for a meeting and in this meeting he briefed them about the BIG news. This was big news indeed, it was the first ever acquisition that this global company was making in India. And the bigger news was that this acquisition was to pave the way for setting up a healthcare manufacturing plant in India. 

The announcement had immense news potential and so the team decided to host a press conference with their global CEO. 

After a few days, the draft release was ready for reviews and approvals. The release was perfect, it had everything the company wanted to say, but very little from what the media would have liked to know.  The biggest miss was the size of the deal. The united efforts of the PR team to get this piece of information did not result in any success. In an announcement relating to a company acquisition, the absence of the size of the deal was conspicuous by absence. 

Not giving up on the situation they found themselves in and trying to do what it takes to get the information pertaining to the deal size, the team approached their global comms team and stressed on the need to get this most crucial piece of information. But success eluded and the final pushback came in the form of a terse email letting the department head know, “that as per global policy, the CEO will not and does not give deal details”. And so the matter ended here. 

The press conference happened. The announcement was made and yes chaos followed. Visualise this for yourself, a packed hall with  close to fifty journalists waiting with bated breath to hear the deal worth. The country CEO hummed and hawed a bit and then said, sorry we do not disclose investment figures. As far as the media was concerned, they had just got one half of the news. The other half was missing.  

The climax was yet to be. After the press conference, there was an employee forum with the visiting CEO. The key agenda of this forum was to share the acquisition announcement with the employees as also to give them a preview into future growth areas this company was eyeing in India. And after the speeches and power points, it was time for Q&As. 

The initial ten minutes in this session were taken up the local leadership staff, they asked a few questions. So far so good. And then a voice piqued up from the last row, she stood up and addressed her question to the Global CEO directly, “Sir, this acquisition is a big deal and is the first acquisition in India and it is meant to pave the way for building the manufacturing footprints in India, then how come there has been a complete clampdown with regards to the size of the deal. She went on to add that surely as a global CEO he realises the importance of the size of deal when making an announcement like this. In the end she added, that the global communications team had conveyed that it was the CEO's decision to not divulge the deal size. Why? Why couldn't we make the most of this big moment and be seen as a global company with long haul commitment to India. 

The global CEO smiled and said “No I haven't said no " and then in a lighter tone he said that in future never believe the global communications team, just because they sit on the same floor as I do”. He gave out the size of the deal and he also added that the data can even be shared with the media. 

And within an hour post the employee session, all the media guests who had attended the press event had the details of the deal. The news coverage that appeared mentioned the deal size in the headlines and linked the acquisition to the company’s long term interest in India and also that this investment spelt serious commitment to India.  

Two learnings from this parable. First, when in doubt ask, if still in doubt ask and when all else fails, bypass organisational hierarchies and ASK. And second, global CEO's are not the impregnable figures they are made out to be by a few global and local peers and colleagues. 

Moushumi Dutt is a senior corporate communications professional . PR Parables is her monthly column for PRmoment India on learnings from her PR life.

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