I was driving from a meeting yesterday and flipped on CNBC (on the radio) to hear about the latest carnage on Wall Street. For the next five minutes, I cringed, and actually felt sympathy for a senior executive at one of the leading credit rating agencies as he was beaten up and bludgeoned by anchors Maria Bartiromo and Bob Pisanti.
This spokesman (the head of finance at the company) had clearly been called on the show to offer commentary on the continuing crisis. The problem is that he wasn't even remotely close to being prepared to answer any of the hard ball, tough questions that were about to be thrown at him.
Someone back at the company's fort really screwed up on this one. He/she (or they) should have realized the most obvious point— all the rating agencies are seen as culprits in creating this mess because of their inexcusable Triple-A ratings of AIG (up until Monday.) And then, for making matters even worse (as we watched with horror) when they decided to cut the same rating, thereby sending AIG into a free fall, nose dive.
This senior executive was asked two key questions repeatedly: What was your thinking/methodology behind giving the Triple A rating in the first place? Why on earth would you cut the rating at the worst possible time knowing that this could take down AIG and our economy with it?
He should have been prepared to concisely answer both, or the interview should never have been allowed. Instead, he tried to bridge away, evade or simply claim ignorance every time the CNBC duo put the screws to him. Honestly, it became sad after the seventh time both hot headed anchors tried to nail him down (and actually said "Why are you evading our questions?".) I thought the senior executive was going to lose it.
The point behind all of this is that PR executives should never allow this to happen. It was clear that this executive was media trained because over and over again he bridged back to the same unbelievable and tedious message. That simply doesn't work. This executive was a guest for one reason only— To answer for his part of the mess.
If your company is part of a crisis, then live in reality and think about the toughest questions that could be asked. There is no bridging allowed in this case, unless your executive answers the actual question first. So, either have that ready or don't do the interview. Because all of the media training in the world won't help you side step the impending doom.
There is no doubt that whoever watched this interview thinks less of this rating agency now, than was ever thinkable before.