With a month to go until the UK General Election, the inevitable focus is on the media performance of the party leaders. The heated rows around the leaders’ TV debates exemplify the continued desire to see politicians squirm to answer tough questions on stage. A recent YouGov survey showed that seven in 10 voters want to see televised debates, and more than half believe that they are good for democracy. And so, last week under the studio lights, we finally started to see some of our toughest interviewers tackle the party leaders.

As you may have witnessed from afar, it certainly did not start well for the Greens. Their leader, Natalie Bennett, quickly discovered that just knowing your numbers is an essential part of interview preparation—especially if it is a live radio interview. She appeared on London’s talk station, LBC, where the presenter quite reasonably asked her how her party would fund the building of 500,000 new council houses—but she just didn’t know the numbers. The interview continued for a further three painful minutes of stutters, stumbles, awkward pauses, and long silences.

While Natalie Bennett blamed “brain fade,” the media were quick to report that what she actually needed was media training. And, perhaps she is not the only one.

On my travels, I am often asked for examples of the best business communicators. Despite running media training sessions for the past 15 years, the irony is that the list of CEOs who best handle the media pressure hasn’t really changed at all.

Time and time again, the likes of Gates, Jobs, and Branson are the easiest to name. One good communicator, since retired, was supermarket boss Justin King. His success has been attributed to his ability not only to steer through change, but also to communicate what he was doing—both inside and outside the business. As Alex Benady said in his PR Week article: “Justin King is a natural communicator who enjoys the give and take of human interaction even when it concerns bad news.”

Right though that is, the battlefield has changed—as we all know and as Branson himself recently accepted: “Embracing social media isn’t just a bit of fun, it’s a vital way to communicate, keep your ear to the ground and improve your business.”

According to Brandfog, almost three quarters of people in the UK and US believe that CEO participation in social media leads to better leadership, helps build better connections with customers, employees and investors, and improves trust. Yet, the cost of getting it wrong can be equally as bad as a car crash TV interview.

Just as Natalie Bennett’s interview on live radio, Ryanair CEO Michael O’ Leary’s infamous Twitter debut in 2013 did not go so smoothly. While the aim was to soften O’Leary’s image and brand, the reality was a series of sexist and confrontational remarks—more in keeping with his existing image as a brash, arrogant CEO. When an attractive-looking customer tweeted to ask a question, he was quick to respond with: “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr!! MOL.” Another more recent casualty: Gene Morphis, finance chief of US fashion retailer Francesca Holdings, lost his job after some poorly judged tweets were found to contravene company policies.

For leaders looking to communicate with their audiences—be it voters, customers, investors, or employees—either on social media or via a camera and microphone, there are lessons to be learnt in the triumphs and failures of those who have gone before. But perhaps the most important one, simple though it sounds, is to be fully prepared. Interestingly, as Harvard Business Review showed in its Research: What CEOs Really Want From Coaching, two-thirds of CEOs (66 percent) still do not receive coaching from outside consultants.

To borrow another of Richard Branson’s quotes: “Chance favours the prepared mind. The more you practice, the luckier you become.” For the leaders jockeying for position in the run up to the General Election, luck will favour those prepared enough to tackle the difficult questions thrown at them in TV debates, and so convince the viewing public to vote for them on 7th May.

Tim Luckett, Global Crisis Practice Leader, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Latin America’s emerging markets have recently benefited from monetary policies established by the world´s top central banks. Analysts have been so uplifted by the economic climates in Brazil, Colombia, México and other emerging markets that they’ve dubbed a series of acronyms for them: BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China); CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa); and MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey).

Even after the euphoria following the establishment of such acronyms, these countries remain strong investment destinations.

The trends that placed Brazil, Colombia and México at the head of their respective acronyms have changed, but the value of these countries as emerging markets has not. Not based in single-factor theories, Brazil, Chile and México’s strengths rely on their ability to adapt to shifting global competition. Additionally, it remains to be seen how expectations on countries like Colombia and Peru grow as they bolster their development paths fitting into the next potential infused acronym.

Our region of more than 600 million inhabitants—covering an area of 8.2 million square miles, or half of the American continent, and linked by two languages and an abundance of cultural nuances—is where the term globalization has a face and a future.

What we bring to the table

Natural resources are plentiful and necessary for the sustainable development of our economies, as varied as they are. We represent a tremendous opportunity for infrastructure development: mining options, oil, and gas are there to be sustainably explored. Agribusiness in such countries as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia should continue to reduce the strain on regional food security and allow those markets to become world suppliers of grain and water.

It’s not only a matter of natural resources. In Argentina, there’s a layer on top of the commodities. The country is a major exporter of creativity, digital capabilities and business software and has the highest Internet use of the region with 75 percent, followed by Chile with 66.5 percent and Colombia with 62 percent. Meanwhile, Mexico has consolidated its manufacturing capacity, automobile production and, most recently, entered into aviation design and production aimed at competing with Brazil in providing airplanes that traverse the world.

Where are we now?

Latin America is leaping toward global standards in many areas, particularly in technology. Forty-nine percent of its population now has Internet access and is growing at a 13 percent rate, faster than any other region in the world. Mexicans spent more time watching videos online (6.1 minutes) than the world average (4.8) and so on. In this interconnected world, these indicators are yet another huge opportunity for growth.

Communicating opportunities

As in most emerging economies, we have large urban and rural populations divided by great differences in literacy, economic power and social development.  In most of our societies, your network is still your net worth. If you reflect on this, Latin America is a powder keg for communicators. There are so many stories to tell, the platforms are there and messages will cross boundaries as never before.

Globalization is a window to be what you are meant to be regardless of where you are. Latin America, with its emerging economies, gives meaning to the in vogue term “license to operate.” More and more LTO must be earned where you are or where you pretend to do business in order to be able to sustain growth.  Each society demands and deserves to understand and believe the purpose of any social organization’s existence, (raison d'être).  What a great time in which to be living... So much to tell.

Antonio Tamayo, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, CEO and President – Latin America

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