Tuesday, January 6, 2009, 5:44 PM

Know your audience(s)

It's no secret that executives in the spotlight should know their audience. What's even more important is that they know their audiences - because they usually have more than one.

Case in point: Vice President-elect Joseph Biden yesterday acknowledged that the Obama transition team made "a mistake" in failing to notify key members of Congress that the president-elect had chosen Leon Panetta to be the next Director of Central Intelligence.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said she knew nothing about the nomination and was cool in her assessment of it. She chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, giving her broad authority over the CIA's budget. Her predecessor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who was also left in the dark, was no more enthusiastic in his comments.

Knowing one's audiences is not simply effective politics - it is a sign of effective communications in any industry. Companies must ask themselves who is responsible for communicating with all key stakeholders when important developments emerge. Crisis planning exercises are a smart way to identify and eliminate such gaps in a company's communications plan. One oversight - whether it be board members, employees, members of the press, regulators, or even the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee - could be the difference between maintaining control of an announcement or surrendering it.

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