Some companies could have done a much better job communicating over the last year, says the award winning CNBC reporter in this short Q&A.
Interviewed by: Steven Lipin, Brunswick, New York
What should companies do when engaging with the media?
The main thing is always communication. We are just trying to do our job, and in order to do our job as well as we can we need to be able to talk to people. In fact, it is okay with me if someone gets on the phone and says “Listen David, I can’t really talk to you about this particular issue at this particular time, here is why”. The only thing that really bothers me is when you just get shut out entirely, when you get nothing – that happens a lot. That just gets you nowhere and ultimately I think it is to the detriment of the company as well.
Is that because they think they have to be on air when they talk to CNBC, or is that because you see them talking to print media and not broadcast media?
I think it is a number of different things. Clearly there are people who think that when they hear from me it is about an interview on television, when in fact I am most interested in simply getting someone on and off background in order to help me with my own reporting. But especially with bad news, there are people who don’t want to talk about it and think they should not answer any questions. For example, in a contested M&A situation, people sometimes won’t answer a question at all, especially if it is a company under siege.
Are there situations this past year, where you think a company truly hurt itself and maybe even its survivability by its lack of communication?
Some of these companies have been caught in such a difficult position that it is hard to imagine what they could have done better on the communications front. I think a number of companies could have done a much better job communicating throughout. It is obviously a very fine line and it has to be something that is very well thought out. I think it is possible to over-communicate and there are also plenty of companies that are under-communicating. There are a number of companies that have found themselves in a position this year where they did not know what messages they should send to combat what was going on in the market in any effective way.
Are you saying that as the market was losing confidence, those companies should have said nothing rather than making promises they couldn’t keep?
Yes. I can remember a number of situations. Bear Stearns’ CFO, in the summer of 2007, was on a conference call he never should have been on. In fact they should not have had a call at all. There are times when it does not pay for companies to communicate broadly – strange as it may sound for me to say that. They end up scaring their constituencies more than helping them. There are plenty of times when a lot more transparency would be a positive thing, of course. The problem is that if you are being more transparent and what really is going on is not good at all, you are in a difficult position.
Do you think that the media has done a good job of covering the financial crisis? Some have said the media was either being complicit or was throwing gasoline on the fire.
I don’t think the media did a good enough job during the lead-up to the crisis. I don’t think the media, including myself, did a good enough job in trying to understand and investigate the potential origins of this crisis. With the crisis itself I think the media has done a pretty good job. I think we at CNBC and many of my peers and international journalists have broadly done a very good job of detailing what was going on. I disagree with those who say we made it worse. At the end of the day people were starving for information. They wanted to try and understand and analyze what was happening.
David Faber, CNBC reporter, documentary producer and co-anchor of the network’s “Squawk on the Street” program, was talking to Brunswick’s US Senior Partner Steven Lipin, a former journalist on the Wall Street Journal.