If you want to keep the throne, you have to control the media.

 

When the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia in 1917, one of Lenin’s first moves was to lock down the press.

 

Lenin was a media machine. He knew the power of the written word to mobilize a nation. Leaning on lessons as old as Julius Caesar, the Soviet government issued the “Decree on Press” within their first few months of rule. They banned publications that criticized Communism. But they also started newspapers and print shops to support and praise their ideas.

 

Every dictator knows that control of the media is necessary for the success of their regime.

 

But media control isn’t only the rule of dictators.

 

When JFK took control of the White House, one of his first quotes was “When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they were.” Kennedy used different tools–charm, exaggeration and good looks–but knew the value of control all the same. His media savvy won him the Presidential office. And his successor–Richard Nixon–was taken down by a media he couldn’t control.

 

What does this have to do with your business? Everything. Elected politicians might be the tail that wags the dog, but entrepreneurs have even more to gain by controlling the media around their business. They also have more to lose by failing to control their image and message.

 

Consider what happens when an airline reduces seat size. They don’t send out an apology. They don’t put a notice on their website. They “spin” the message into a positive: “Announcing more flights from San Francisco to New York!” They’re adding seats, not planes; and they’re adding seats by reducing legroom. But their message is a net positive.

 

Does that feel slimy? Or like you’ve been tricked? Don’t worry: we can do this in a positive way.

 

For example, if an owner has a poorly attended class at 9am, it doesn’t make sense to run the class at a loss. Her 6am classes are full; her 7am class is consistent; her 8am class is overflowing; but her 9am class is dead. But it also doesn’t make sense to issue a public apology and tarnish the image of the brand when only one or two people are affected.

 

Instead of “I’m sorry, we’re cancelling this class time” the owner can instead ask herself, “How can this benefit the clients?” Then, she might realize that canceling the 9:00am class will create the option of an 8:30 class, which will be attended by some people in the overflowing 8am class. It will make the groups more fun, create more pay per hour for her coaches, and give her an extra half hour to work on growing her business.

 

Her message should be: “We’re thrilled to announce our Spring 2019 Schedule! This quarter, we’re offering morning classes at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30–more convenience, an extra half-hour of sleep for the Dawn Patrol, and an extra half hour to get to work with our new 8:30 group!” Her new schedule has fewer classes, which is great. But most importantly, there’s a real benefit to her clients. The gym owner really CAN help her clients with the change. The 6am group really WILL get an extra half hour of sleep–or she can offer a 5:30 group. The 9am hangers-on will only show up 30 minutes earlier. And if they can’t make that time, personal training is available for 1:1 or small groups!

 

As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to make hard decisions. Some–like a coach leaving, or a rate increase–are the right decisions, but still require the right message to clients. Here are some quick rules of good media:

 

  1. Get in front of the problem. Never react. Don’t wait for clients to ask you, “Why did Coach Billy quit?” Instead, tell them before they ask. Write a blog post called “Billy’s retiring!”
  2. Control access to your media. When a staff person is fired, cut their media access just before their exit interview.
  3. Be consistent in your language. Speak like an authority (and don’t write like a sixth-grader).
  4. Constantly remind your audience of the great things you’re doing for them. People forget about the actual value they’re receiving. Politicians have learned the hard way: the electorate has a short memory. This is why they cut programs as soon as they’re elected instead of waiting; they know we’ll forget before the next election. It’s also why smart politicians list their achievements at the end of every single press release.
  5. Publish a lot. None of your messages will strike home for everyone, and some will miss the target completely. But if you asked me, “What’s the worst blog post Seth Godin ever wrote?” I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If you asked for the best, I’d give you a list of ten. Bury the bad stuff.
  6. Repeat yourself. No one reads, watches or listens to everything you publish. Few people will dive into your back library. You’ll get tired of your message long before your audience will.

A business isn’t a democracy. It might not be a dictatorship, but your position as CEO wasn’t won by a ballot either. It was won by risk and leadership. When the tough decisions have to be made, you’re going to make them alone.

But perception is everything, in governance and business, and controlling the media means controlling your empire.