Here’s a quandary for communicators.
Your CEO has been incognito to the media for 26 years. Rather than charge forward into the mainstream media, he prefers a gentle re-entry.
This is not the time to pitch Morley Safer.
Huawei’s communications team faced this very situation. Its CEO, Ren Zhengfei, was ready to meet with the media after roughly 9,100 days (26 years X 365 ) of laying low.
What’s the right move?
Conventional thinking would have had Zhengfei making his debut with Reuters, Associated Press or another heavyweight media property. Instead, he met with journalists in New Zealand, a savvy decision that meant Huawei gained the best of both worlds: journalists not prone to probe with a built-in news hook – Zhenghfei meets with media – that would trigger other media to cover the story out of New Zealand.
And that’s exactly what happened, as you can see from a few of the stories that appeared:
Now, you might be thinking, “Clever, but one can only play this card every 26 years.”
Not so fast.
Taking this basic concept in New Zealand, Huawei could manufacture similar narratives by rolling out Mr. Zhengfei to the media on an annual basis. Of course, it needs to be the “right” media.
I’ve taken the liberty of mapping out the strategy for 2014 through 2016
- Gangnam News (2014): With Huawei keen to humanize the company, meeting at the birthplace of the Gangham Style video would be an inspired choice. The paper reaches around 30,000 readers on a monthly basis, so the journalists are conditioned to covering city council meetings and restaurant openings. Not that Huawei asked me for creative ideas, but if Mr. Zhengfei donned a lime green jacket for the interview, coverage of the story would make the iPhone launch look provincial.
- Las Vegas Sun (2015): The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show takes place in Vegas, a perfect venue to tout Huawei’s role in the broadcasting industry. Seems fair to say that the contrast with the gaming industry works in Huawei’s favor. I’m also thinking by 2015, the hoopla around that pesky Congressional Report on the telecom market would have died down. Shoot, Mr. Zhengfei’s presence could be the springboard to building the Huawei brand in the United States.
- Birmingham Post UK (2016): Switching continents, Mr. Zhangfei now works his magic in Europe. The train was invented in Birmingham, providing a natural link to Huawei’s transportation business. What I especially like about the Birmingham Post is it’s been around since 1870. We, did I say “we,” might be able to bring a stability message to the story.
If Huawei does this right, it could become an organic reality TV show with journalists and the world guessing where the coming year’s sighting of Mr. Zhengfei will take place.
The branding possibilities make my head hurt.
Trying to create viral content is always a roll of the dice, but I guarantee a video with Mr. Zhengfei and PSY called “Huawei Style” would generate clicks.
First you have to have a point to make. Then you have to have a reason to make it. Third, you need an audience – real or contrived. And fourth, you’ve gotta’ give to get; you need to provide a takeaway that’s usable.
It’s one thing to hire a PR Agency to “spin” your opinion and get you ink. And it’s another to make a commitment to get focused, serious and *rational* about insight, information and (usable) ideas.
Ultimately, people want stuff they can use, get more out of, or see themselves engaged with. Mobilizing information is one way to spoon-feed insight and ideas; but I can’t see the latter in this situation.
Here’s an example: A CEO or CMO comes to Ishkabibble Public Relations and says, “We want you to start a Blog for us. It’s supposed to help drive sales, SEO and get us more qualified customers. So build it and they will come.”
Joe Ishkabibble [who’s not like the author of this Blog] thinks there’s a buck or ten to be made here. He doesn’t ask the important questions: Why would anyone care? What really are you trying to accomplish with a target audience? What’s the long term editorial calendar for this? And how do you answer the reader’s four-second search mindset — ‘So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me?'”
A little intrigue goes a long way in today’s “media.” Frankly, I like the idea of the green coat and the Gangnam-Style approach. It’s retro. It smacks of Daniel Edelman and the Toni Twins press tour (“Is it a real curl or is it Toni?”).
But I can’t see a CEO who’s been unavailable, afraid or unwilling to speak publicly for the previous 10 years step outside his controlled environment, deliver an engaging, insightful, thought-provoking exchange, and provide the audience with usable takeaways.
That takes time. And story telling. And it ain’t “social media.”
P.S. Here’s how to tell the story:
You always hook me with the nostalgia play.
Ah, the Toni Twins promotion. Those were the days.
And I agree with everything you said including the likelihood that we’ll see this campaign idea put in motion.
P.S. Loved the Ducks parody as did the rest of the world (almost 7M views).
New headline for this Blog piece:
Doing it Gangham-Style Won’t Build Cred
For Gang-of-Four-Type CEOs