All CEO’s, Founders or Chairmen that get the concept of using their image to promote their business interests get their comms people to regularly push themselves onto TV, onto radio, into newspapers and magazines so they essentially become the personification of the business.
Elon Musk, 51 years, is well adept at using a sharp blade when it comes to cutting into the media – via social or traditional media avenues.
It’s his constant throwing of daggers from velvet sheaths that has elevated his profile with earned media – which means media you don’t have to pay for in the form of ads or paid-editorial.
From arriving in North America with US$2,000 in his pocket at 17 years of age from his homeland of South Africa, the tech titan is now worth US$230 Billion courtesy of SpaceX, OpenAI, The Boring Company and Neuralink Inc and Tesla.
He arrived on the U.S. business and media scene in 1996 with his venture Zip2, which brought the internet to companies like the New York Times, Hearst and Knight-Ridder. Compaq acquired Zip2 in 1999 for US$340 million.
Rather than settling for standard stories about new hires or annual results that show growth, Musk has been fully engaged with content generation by sending daggers at targets creating a multitude of reportable ‘mini-deaths’ or stories for years.
As NDTV reported in May 2022 about Musk, ‘Elon Musk Gives Many Headlines In a 40-Minute Interview’.
Essentially, he is a living, breathing, walking, talking headline generating machine.
On Twitter, which he joined in June 2009, he now has 105 million followers.
Musk fires a daily diet of daggers, some missing the target, but many hitting and creating viral traction. All with a sharpened blade.
Apart from his hard-hitting, no-nonsense opinions that make great tweets and subsequently headlines, his pronouncements characteristically strike hard and ring alarm bells.
He’s the epitome of a disruptive entrepreneur – and in so being – is disruptive of narrative norms.
He unsettles and explodes common held beliefs and perceptions or the status quo, often playing devil’s advocate to get a reaction – and ‘get the buffalo on the run’.
Just a quick glance at some of Elon Musk’s headlines and tweets show the constant flurry of daggers flying about all over the place.
‘Elon Musk’s SpaceX delivers Russian, Native American women to station’ (Independent Oct 7, 2022).
‘Elon Musk claims ‘bot attack’ ruined his Ukraine-Russia war solution’ (Independent Oct 5, 2022)
‘War is the ultimate Supreme Court’ (Tweet on Oct 6, 2022)
‘This would be my daily life if I were a lawyer’ (Tweet on Sep 26, 2022)
‘Will Musk turn Twitter into a ‘supercharged engine of radicalisation’?’ (Independent Oct 6, 2022)
‘Elon Musk suggests making Taiwan a ‘special administrative zone’ similar to Hong Kong (The Guardian, Oct 8, 2022)
‘Elon Musk blames hatred of rich people for daughter’s estrangement’ (Business Insider, Oct 7, 2022)
‘Elon Musk is totally wrong about population collapse’ (Wired, Oct 6, 2022)
For media savvy companies who want more bang for their buck than just a results announcement they also focus attention around the CEO, like Tim Cook at Apple, Reed Hasting at Netflix or Marc Benioff at Salesforce to ‘star’ in columns, articles and broadcast appearances.
But other companies deliberately choose the entire C-suite of CFO’s, CMO’s even CTO’s to share the limelight with the CEO, Founder or Chairman.
The Board often prefer a pantheon of faces – rather than singular ‘Elon Musk’ so that no one person becomes too powerful in the organisation.
Imagine if a high profile CEO, without any shares in the company, becomes synonymous with the company, but then is tempted away with a better financial offer made by a rival – or worse still, is suddenly hit by a bus.
The simple technique for business personalities penetrating either social or traditional media – is firing largely pre-created and scheduled content via a plethora of daggers, which are stored in velvet sheaths.
A good 85-90% of the content you release can be planned this way, leaving 15% for on-the-day-spontaneity.
A dagger with a sheath covered in green velvet was first spotted in India around 1850, and has cropped up in English Literature as description for what women should aspire to be like.
Just like there are rules for engagement in war, so is there an etiquette in the process of disguising your media dagger in a velvet sheath, only for the poison tip, when thrown at a media target, to be particularly deadly.
The business personalities that get the most media traction, seriously punching, or in this case – cutting – above their weight, are the ones unafraid to use a sharpened instrument, and all of the time, although it’s deadliness is always well hidden by the velvet sheath.
Following are all the types of ‘cutting edge storylines’ and news-linked, opinionated comment that various CEO’s have been prepared to engage in on The Ian King Show on Sky News over the last year.
Strong predictions, statements, revelations and conjecture.
Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo – ‘Diageo boss warns of Scottish water shortage’
Mike Regnier, CEO, Santander UK – ‘Young people are in debt after not getting enough education about finances’
Ben van Beurden, CEO, Shell – ‘Governments may need to tax energy firms to help the poor’
Hiroshi Mikitani, Chairman & CEO, Rakuten – ‘Rakuten CEO Mikitani to donate 1 billion yen to Ukraine’
Severin Schwan, CEO, Roche – ‘Roche admits to losing money in Russia’
Dolf van den Brink, CEO, Heineken – ‘Heineken chief warns cost inflation is ‘off the charts’’
Peter Simpson, CEO Anglian Water – ‘Make more effort to reach net zero goals, Anglian Water CEO tell Truss’
Octavio Marenzi, CEO, Opimas – ‘Hold cash, sit on your hands, and wait for central banks to pivot before you reinvest’
Alastair Douglas, CEO of Totally Money –‘Brits blowing £17m a month on credit card cash fees’
Nigel Pocklington, CEO, Good Energy –‘Fifteen years of anaemic growth cannot be repeated’
Mark Tanzer, CEO, ABTA – ‘Scrap Covid tests for most travellers’
Mike Fairman, CEO of Checkatrade –‘Top DIY jobs homeowners use to transform their houses without paying up big revealed’
Michael Ward, CEO, Harrods – ‘Threat to London’s Cultural Status’
Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO, Freespace – ‘In a hybrid world, office downsizings are coming’
Martin Daum, CEO, Daimler Trucks –‘German bureaucracy preventing reduced gas use’
Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Co-Founder and CEO Klarna – ‘No short term solutions to inflation’
Victor Lugger – Chief Executive, The Big Mamma Restaurants – ‘Companies that pivot are best placed to prosper’
Graham Clemett, CEO, Workspace Group – ‘London’s SME’s are leading the way back to the office’
Fani Titi, CEO, Investec – ‘Investec CEO urges government to take more courageous decisions’
Chuck Robbins, CEO, Cisco – ‘When we make changes, we make them together’
Anders Danielsson, CEO, Skanska – ‘We probably have the best balance sheet in the industry’.
George Dymond, CEO, Planet Organic – ‘Can Planet Organic beat the cost-of-living squeeze?’
Aaron Skonnard, Co-Founder and CEO, Pluralsight – ‘Why companies must transform from consumers of talent to creators of talent’
Brian Gilvary, Chairman, INEOS Energy – ‘Would we be investing in wind or solar right now? The answer is no’.
All of these CEO’s stand themselves in good stead to get repeatable media coverage, because they’re prepared to stick their neck out and fire daggers at targets.
Like the magicians of old who threw daggers as part of their magic act, you now need to prepare a stream of blades to be thrown, all deadly daggers with poison tips – all with the sole goal of creating a constant series of ‘mini deaths’ or newsworthy happenings.
Stories, or mini-deaths or collisions, always follow a rule system of being delivered with eloquence, often a bit of alliteration and rhythm and what journalists so often call “pithiness”, in terms of the way they gently jack-hammer points across in a silky, calm-but-frenetic, somewhat wild-but-poetic way.
Ten years ago the content approach, whether in the form of press releases, or brief notes, or feature-length articles was known as ‘Associated Press-style’ or ‘AP-style’. Associated Press is a global news agency. This style is somewhat factual and informative whilst very professional.
But now, thanks to evermore rapid delivery of news via social media and the 24/7 news cycle, it’s more like a ‘Mail Online style’. A bit screamy. Drenched with facts. Almost a nail bomb, blasting the attention of the reader, who could so easily click off the story and onto something else. Heaven forbid!
Every story is chasing the rankings of ‘Most Read’ story and hopefully getting shared across social media platforms which demands a much edgier, full throttle approach.
Women’s magazines have operated like this for years, having a sort of ‘line up’ on a magazine shelf where every single front cover tries to jump off the shelf and into the shopping trolley in terms of the sheer alarm it generates, demanding to be purchased and consumed or the reader’s life is so almost definitely over.
Each of these story daggers – or arrows – are packed with poison.
All these daggers are aiming at the target, constantly being thrown, always looking for penetration.