Talk To Reporters. It's Good For Your Career.
This, and my other best advice for interacting with journalists.
Two weeks ago, as I sat in a conference room in Istanbul for nearly two hours with Tim Clark, president of Emirates, it struck me that Clark has enjoyed a long and enduring career in this industry, during which he has earned considerable praise. Undoubtedly, Clark deserves all that acclaim for his product and network acumen — he turned an unknown airline into a major global player.
But there are other reasons he's still running an airline into his 70s, past the date most executives trade the boardroom for a comfortable retirement. I think at least one of the reasons Clark is still working is because, for decades, he has cultivated his reputation through interactions with the most important stakeholders, including the media. As I mentioned last week, I have never met another executive with such stamina for speaking with journalists. Clark will answer questions for hours, whether or not he has heard of the reporter’s publication. I remember being floored years ago, after I had just joined Skift, when Emirates responded that, yes, Tim Clark would be delighted to speak with me in London.
Look: Clark’s aptitude for speaking with the media is probably not near the top of the list of reasons why he’s still a successful figure in this industry. That doesn’t sell plane tickets. But I do think it helps explain his longevity. If you want to be a leader in this industry, cultivating a genuine relationship built on trust and open communication with the media is important. I suspect journalists might go easier on Clark because they feel like they have a real relationship with him — that they know him. And yes, the opposite is true too: being loose-lipped with the media can get you in trouble — or worse, end your career. But that happens less than you might think.
I suspect you’ve been warned by your corporate communications team not to interact with journalists. But I’m concerned that not enough people are telling you that it could be beneficial for your career. The truth is that many of the most successful executives at your company are working with reporters, both with the blessing of corporate communications and without.
Some real talk: If your job requires you to be public-facing, and if you would like to have a successful career, you should find ways to engage with the media. I think it’s fair to say we need each other professionally. We need to use each other and be used by each other.
With that in mind, I want to give my paying subscribers some honest advice that I have learned in my 15-plus years in journalism, reporting on you and your peers. Some of this advice is designed to save you from career-ending embarrassment — I don’t want you to unintentionally go viral because you said something you regret in the presence of a reporter; to be frank, that doesn’t really help anyone, including me — but most of my suggestions should help your career, particularly if you have the fortitude to befriend journalists.
Of course, I have a stake in this. It’s obvious (I hope) I need you all to continue talking to me on and off the record to keep this newsletter and my career going. But I’d argue that you have a lot more to gain.
Anyways: paying subscribers, read on. Also, if you would like to read this and then discuss your own media strategy with me, I encourage you to become a Founding Member of this newsletter. The founding membership, which includes once-per-quarter consulting sessions with me, is still a steal compared to my usual hourly rate.