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Savoir-faire for risk managers


When it comes to speaking to the press, risk managers are a reluctant bunch.

In two decades as a reporter, I've had my share of brush-offs and "no comments," but I am finding corporate risk managers are among the most reticent to do interviews.

There are a number of excuses given, from strict company media policies to concerns about statements that could impact share price.

But I think the main reason is inexperience.

In the past, how often were journalists clamoring to speak to the company risk manager?

It's usually the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or chief operating officer who is in the spotlight.

However, I would argue that, in an increasingly risky world, journalists want to hear what the risk manager has to say.

And now in Europe, there's an entire newspaper dedicated to the topic of risk management (you're reading it). Face it, to best cover this area we need to talk to you.

But I think this can work to our mutual advantage.

That's how it was for Pierre Sonigo, secretary general of the Federation of European Risk Management Associations in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr. Sonigo, a former group and environmental risk manager at Pechiney Groupe in Paris, has always been willing to speak to journalists who have questions about risk.

Mr. Sonigo recently shared the following advice to a group of up-and-coming risk managers in Poland: "Sometimes it is easier to be recognized outside than being recognized inside your company, and once you are recognized outside, suddenly it feeds back in to the company and it helps you to be recognized inside."

Mr. Sonigo said he always had a good working relationship with his company's communications department.

When reporters called with questions about environmental risks and Pechiney's risk management strategy, he was willing to speak to them.

"I've always said: 'Sure I will talk to him. I will explain to him what we are trying to do.' It was very nice, because the next day in the newspaper there was sometimes my picture, there was sometimes a quotation of what I said, and the newspaper was read by the people in the company and they said: 'Maybe Sonigo is doing something right if he is recognized and he is quoted in the press.' And that helped me really in establishing my risk management goals and getting recognition within the company."

Asked to comment, Franck Baron, a board member of the Swiss Association of Insurance & Risk Managers said: "I think that the vast majority of risk managers are not experienced enough or trained enough to be good communicators—to handle in an efficient and safe way their relationship with the press and the media outside of the company."

The problem, he added, is that true risk managers are privy to information that should not be discussed outside the company—and they need to be skilled enough to know the dividing line.

"I think it is smarter, if you know that you do not have the skills to manage the media relationship, to be as quiet as possible," said Mr. Baron, director of global insurance and risk management at Firmenich S.A. in Geneva.

On other hand, when risk managers are quoted in the media it does help promote the profession, Mr. Baron noted.

Of course, I understand that speaking to a reporter comes with risks. But I would argue that when you deal with business reporters—particularly from the top tier—those risks are minimal.

Still, I have met industry sources who think all reporters are of the British tabloid variety.

Recently, I gave a copy of BIE to a risk consultant who flipped through it jokingly searching for the photo of the naked model.

Sorry, no nude pictures in this tabloid.