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Talking Points for Interviews

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Congratulations on taking the helm at Amalgamated Smelting. And again, thanks: We’re thrilled to be back on board — part of the team again — charter members of the unofficial “Monte Stellar kitchen cabinet and coaching club” @ $50k per month, plus options and reasonable expenses, TBD.

(As always, we’ll work out the exact figures and the billing — corporate/personal — later.)

Until then, as per your request, here’s the short list of talking points — potential issues and proposed answers — for the press interviews we’ve lined up during your first month on the job.

1) “A BIG MAN FOR A BIG JOB” (formerly “A New Era, A New Challenge”). What are you doing at Amalgamated Smelting? “Creating the future.” But it would appear to have nothing in common with (Fortune) “the catastrophe that was Chicken DeCluxx.” Do not get angry. Take a deep breath. Smile. Drop the phrases: “Thinking outside the box,” “Reinventing the future,” “The global marketplace,” and “A new paradigm for a new millennium.” With luck, this won’t come up at all: Most journalists today are so all-consumed with envy of their kids’ college roommates who've become dot-com billionaires that they don’t even bother to do a Nexis search anymore. Which brings me to my second point:

2) YOUR INTERNET STRATEGY. You don’t have one. So get one. Fast. In the meantime, do not mention that your secretary prints out your e-mail. (Thanks, Marge!) Instead, when asked about the Internet, say, “I can’t live without it.” Along the same lines, we’re sending a Palm Pilot to leave on your desk as a prop. Again: “I can’t live without it.” Keywords: B2B. Clicks-and-mortar. Stickiness. Value-add. “A new paradigm for a new millennium.”

3) YOUR MISSION STATEMENT. I know you were kidding that night at Trader Vic’s (London Hilton basement, after DeCluxx worldwide mgt. conf) when you said, “I want to be richer than Croesus.” Not that it isn't a worthy goal. But it won’t play. Substitute the following: “Our mission is to be number one at everything we do with Six Sigma quality, to increase shareholder value while striving to be a good corporate citizen, and to never forget that the customer comes first.” (The short private version: “We want to make the shareholders richer than Croesus.”) With this in mind, we’re sending you an assortment of classic literature and current best-selling business books. Place them near the Palm Pilot.

4) ADVERTISING STRATEGY. Hmmmm. Despite my best advice, I see you’ve gone out and hired one of those new-age agencies that confuse advertising (i.e., let’s sell something) with entertainment (i.e., let’s blow the budget on the Super Bowl and get the agency written up in The Times). Alas, no one has a clue what you’re selling, what’s unique about the product, why you should buy it, or even the name of the company. Oh well. If asked, there’s only one word to cover this: Branding. If pushed, try to subtly imply that perhaps the journalist is “too old to get it.” Failing that: “A new paradigm for a new millennium.”

5) A FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE. The trend that has trivialized politics has now crossed into the business world: the confusion of “wit” and “competence.” (I wasn’t kidding when I said that if I ran a multinational, I’d broom the accounting department and hire 25 joke writers.) So if all else fails, you can always say, “Hey. Somebody’s still got to make stuff.”

I’ll be in touch.

The Biffster

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