Leadership: Keep your head up

There is an ongoing debate about whether the media reflects our behavior or shapes it. This issue is raised periodically relative to news media as well. Do news outlets simply report the news or do they change our thinking, and our behavior, by focusing on one side of a story?

People on both sides of the aisle will tell you that the media influences our political decisions. Some believe the media helped the Bush administration promote the war in Iraq. Others believe President Barack Obama was treated with kid gloves during the presidential campaign.  

It is a legitimate question and one that news organizations should consider as they cover economic news in coming months…is the news media reporting the news or creating it? I’m writing this article for one reason…most, if not all of my clients have expressed great disdain over the news media’s coverage of our economic challenges. Many business leaders have stated that they have turned off the news, and have suggested to their teams that they do the same because of what they perceive as unbalanced reporting focused primarily on the negative stories (which there are plenty of) without focusing on the success stories as well.

Fear factor

Media outlets rely on advertising to fund their enterprises. And there’s nothing like a crisis to increase news consumption – and advertising revenue. However, the media has a responsibility to present the good as well as the bad and the ugly. This is especially important during these stressful economic times. Some business publications, including BizTimes Milwaukee, are covering success stories as well as stories of layoffs and business closings. I commend them for that and hope that more media outlets will do the same.

It is easy for people to succumb to fear, and lately it’s become a steady drumbeat in the news. Here’s an example. I was getting my hair cut the other day when the topic turned to the economy and how the salon was doing (this hairdresser happens to be the salon’s business manager as well). She told me that she was really angry with the media during the holiday season. News stories focused on the perilous state of the retail industry and cautioned buyers against purchasing gift cards. She told me that in a normal year, gift card sales represent a large percentage of December receipts. However, in 2008, gift card sales fell off significantly.

It’s possible that gift card sales would have been down last year regardless of what was said in the news. However, it’s also possible that warnings of potential bankruptcies influenced people not to buy them hurting otherwise successful and surviving companies. 

Survivor USA

Many business leaders share this frustration with the media. They feel it’s not helpful – or accurate – to focus so heavily on the negative. I agree. I work with many companies that are doing well even during these tougher economic times. These companies continue to focus on the fundamentals: offering a quality product or service, effectively managing staff and the bottom-line and providing excellent customer service. The ability of these companies to soldier on is a legitimate news story and one that more people would like to hear about. 

Perhaps some of the success stories this year will be about breaking even rather than breaking ground, and however small these stories may seem, they can make a big difference to the country’s mood. Consumer confidence is affected by many things, not the least of which is perception. The media can either boost or hurt that confidence by the stories it chooses to tell.  

Here’s my suggestion to business leaders: Provide a counter-balance to all the negative stories you hear in the press. Be sure to take the time to look for success stories inside and outside of your industries.

Make sure you share these stories with your employees. Provide them with hope and a vision of the future once we get past this challenging time. I’m not suggesting we ignore the negative news. Just make sure your team has a balanced diet of the news. Make sure your employee team understands that even though the world economy is going through a very difficult period, some companies are succeeding.

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