Before I left Johnson & Johnson, there was a new word I began hearing in the public-relations circles. It used to be all about “transparency,” but then the word “dissintermediate” started to surface. J&J didn’t just have a “Credo” hanging on a wall that gave lip surface to patients, physicians, nurses, employees, and shareholders. The Credo was spoken about frequently, and truly guided decisions… in the same way that other companies are driven deeply by profit, innovation, competition, legal fear, growth, cutting costs.
Anyway, “dissintermediate” was the term designed to ensure that the media didn’t shape J&J’s reputation entirely. In a crisis, like with the Tylenol tampering of the 1980s, the media sometimes becomes both a feeder and follower of public opinion. Truth dissipates in McCarthy-like witch hunts of companies (Enron, banking) or people (Octomom, Jackson). The reporter knows the public is mad at Octomom, so the journalist’s story (despite an attempt for objectivity) naturally feeds the public sentiment… or else the public groans at the reporter.
I’m having flashbacks about this, having read YouTube’s business blog, because YouTube is an excellent platform for this. Read how JetBlue and Domino’s used YouTube to help damage control difficult situations, and the positive press that resulted from approaching a crisis head-on through YouTube.
CEO’s used to take out full-page ads to address the public after, for example, an accident (Exxon Valdez, product recall, or an airplane crash). Now CEO’s can speak to people directly, unedited, unmediated. If the public is so inclined, they can become their OWN reporter. They can assess the message and decide if the company is humble, well intentioned, honest, transparent, apologetic… or not. And with video, that opinion will be less about “packaged news sound bytes” and more about how the CEO comes across in longer form video. His or her gestures and tone that soundbytes never do justice.
Reagan mastered politics because he knew how to perform for television. Today’s CEOs won’t live or die by their video to the public, but those that hide behind PR machines and reporters (instead of speaking to us directly) will be ceding their fate to potentially less capable or interested parties.
The CEO who understands how to talk into a camera lense as if he’s looking into the eyes of a friend will be at a significant advantage.