As Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before Congress over Facebook’s privacy fiasco, public-relations experts who have prepped CEOs before have plenty of advice on handling the hot seat.
Among them: Appear sympathetic and be ready for a beating. Take responsibility. Don’t feign ignorance. And keep in mind that this is more political theater than public policy. The so-called “optics” — how things look — are as important as what you say.
The stakes are high: CEOs testifying in Washington have lost jobs, faced perjury investigations and otherwise endured public humiliation. It’s not comfortable for anyone in a position of power to essentially kowtow to Congress in a televised setting.
“It’s an intense, grinding experience, draining psychologically and physically,” said Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of the PR agency 5WPR.
As with others who have coached CEOs in the past, he couldn’t name former clients because of confidentiality agreements. Torossian said appearing before Congress is “a very humbling experience for powerful people.” But Zuckerberg can learn from those who have gone before him.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Zuckerberg should spend days, if not weeks, familiarizing himself with the layout of the hearing room and with specific members of Congress, including the toughest questions they are likely to ask. The Facebook CEO has to appear willing to answer questions.
When then-BP chief Tony Hayward testified before Congress about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, he denied involvement or knowledge of the problem in many cases. That’s a classic response designed to avoid legal trouble, but it didn’t make him sympathetic to viewers. Hayward lost his job about a month later.
“He was clearly very well trained from lawyers, but it didn’t rest well with the American public,” said Richard Levick, founder and CEO of public-relations firm Levick. He said Zuckerberg needs advice from lobbyists and communications professionals, too.
Helio Fred Garcia,…