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What CEOs can Learn from Left-Wing Think-Tanks

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) put on a clinic in public and media relations when it released its report on CEO pay. While many of the titans of commerce were heli-skiing, jetboating, or lounging on private islands, the CCPC had the news media mostly to itself. And boy did it capitalize.

On Tuesday, as many of us awoke from our calorie-induced slumber and wobbled into work at -- let's be honest, half-speed -- there was one group that was working overtime. Corporate CEOs, you ask? Nope. But they were the targets.

While many of the titans of commerce were heli-skiing, jetboating, or lounging on private islands, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) was putting on a clinic in public and media relations, releasing its report on CEO pay. Now, I don't agree with the CCPA on much (or anything, it seems, from a quick review of their website) but I like to give a tip of the cap for a job well done.

Think about what you read and saw that day. Iowa. A little more Iowa. And CEO pay. That's it. The CCPC had the field mostly to itself, and boy did it capitalize.

What did it do right and what can we all learn -- apart from that it pays to be a CEO?

1. Pick a date for your release when there is little competition

Newsrooms are short staffed over the holidays and are looking for an easy story. Give it to them.

2. Release your report early in the work week

Although this report was technically released on a Tuesday, I'm counting it as a Monday given the holiday. Most Canadians saw their office desk for the first time Tuesday morning, and this story was already moving by the time they were sipping their first coffee. By the way -- never dismiss Sunday as a day to make news. Reporters may grumble, but if you can get them out, you'll be running unopposed.

3. Do original research

The CCPA always throws a 20-odd page report with lots of graphs and facts out with their news release. It makes it look like they've done some homework. Overburdened reporters can sleep at night knowing there is some substance behind the headline.

4. Start a debate

The CCPA fills the release with loaded language: "the 0.01 percent," "elite," and "average Joes" all stir emotion -- which is almost always key to driving a message. It attempts to capitalize on the perceived success of the "occupy" movement by setting up an "us vs. them" argument. If you're not pushing the envelope and angering some, you're probably being too tepid and reporters will likely take a pass.

5. Don't punch out when the release is posted

Too many organizations think a news release is the end goal. It's only the beginning. The CCPA was active on radio, TV, and Twitter all day to push the story further and add more layers to the debate. Don't check out after the first round of media coverage.

6. Make your language relatable

Here, the CCPA pulled no punches. Using "average Joes vs. CEOs" and crunching the numbers into bite-sized chunks (really, over $44,000 for a half-day's work?) gives regular people something to grasp and to gripe about. The story wouldn't have had the same punch if delivered in scholarly research jargon.

I'm not going to quibble with the substance of the report -- others have done a good job at that already. I would have liked to see them go a step further and provide a little more guts to their "recommendations," which essentially show that the emperor has no clothes and their "solutions" are anything but.

At the same time, I am going to give credit where credit is due: the CCPA has created a branded, interesting, and newsworthy product that grabbed attention (and more importantly headlines) across Canada. Now, if I could just get them to agree with me on tax cuts, we'd be all set.

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