08/20/2010 10:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CEO Cover Stories For Dummies

After writing about the problem with financial journalism for the Huffington Post I realized I had left out something crucial. Here I had spent all that time on why so much financial reporting is bad, and only touched upon the most important part: The Cover Story CEO Profile™.

Let's paint a picture. You're a writer and have finally gotten access to the hottest CEO in CorporateLand™. One lauded as a genius by paid PR flaks, desperate editors and, critically, other publications. This is your big chance, don't blow it! Luckily you are armed with this CEO Profile Generation Station™, which takes all the messy guesswork, reporting and items of genuine human interest right out of your story. Simply complete the multiple-choice quiz below and your story will have virtually writen itself! Pencils up!

1. The best way to express your CEO's personal style is ...
a.) Swashbuckling corporate buccaneer? (Note: Mandatory for all profiles of Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group™.)
b.) Grandfatherly Robber Barron?
c.) Boy Genius Techno Geek/God?
d.) Hapless inheritor of mantle from a, b or c?

2. Your CEO requires an easily grasped, overly simplified world view. Is he ...
a.) Competitive?
b.) Ultra-competitive?
c.) Wizened?
d.) Indicted? (Just kidding! That's for the one paragraph follow-up slated to run in exactly 18 months!)

3. No one is all business! Please shoehorn in one irrelevant, allegedly humanizing detail about your CEO. Is it ...
a.) Matching his and her yachts?
b.) An offensive, profanity-laced tirade that tells you a lot but is still removed by your editor? ("Too long.")
c.) His great love for marathon dog-mushing sessions? ("My one escape! Drives the wife crazy.")
d.) No, he is all business. (See: Hurd, Mark)

4. Look, no one wants to read a downer. So you will have to remove one of the details below. Is it his ...
a.) Estranged, broken family?
b.) Shameful collegiate flirtation with the Democratic Party?
c.) Secret belief he's an overpaid fraud?
d.) Actually you'll need to remove all of them. (Hint: It's this one.)

5. We all celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship, even as our corporate culture crushes the reality of entrepreneurship. If your subject heads a startup please say how he birthed his baby. Was it ...
a.) In a garage? (May include those that hold three cars.)
b.) In a dorm? (May include those that hold three Ivy Leaguers.)
c.) Within the larger structure of a firm owned by his father? ("Still, this was my vision!")
d.) Any of the above, just in India?

6. Education is a more valuable commodity than ever, like coal. At what school did your subject get his MBA sheepskin?
a.) Harvard?
b.) Stanford?
c.) Wharton?
d.) Hard Knocks? (Note: State school. )

7. The cover photo is a big, big deal. You want your subject to look good -- commanding, powerful, not too old. How should he pose?
a.) Arms crossed, eyes squinty -- Eastwood style. Do you feel lucky ... future?
b.) Same pose as above, only flanked by flunkies? (Message: Not an egomaniac!)
c.) Holding his newest wonder device with a look that says yes, he too is astonished he created something this amazing?
d.) Dramatically lit from below? (Think Mt. Rushmore only ... more.)

8. Hey, there's a reason this guy is on the cover. He accomplished something great! Is it that ...
a.) His firm's stock outpaced the S&P 500 during an arbitrarily selected span of time?
b.) He laid off 35,000 people? ("But there's still more fat to trim ...")
c.) He's going all in on a Hail Mary technology that won't do jack shit? (This answer sponsored by: Microsoft Bob™, Microsoft WebTV™ and Microsoft Zune™.)
d.) He didn't even want, let alone need, the government bailout money that he nonetheless took and immediately spent on bonuses.

9. Speaking of which, it's time to talk about getting Big Mama Government off our backs! After all who can do business in a climate like this? One where ...
a.) In answer to the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression income taxes may go up 3%? ("It penalizes success" as we simultaneously "kill the goose that laid the egg," and so on.)
b.) Incredibly toxic derivatives may finally get regulated? Although probably not?
c.) Banks scored huge, government-funded paydays for destroying our economy?
d.) Our top regulatory cops are mostly of the Keystone variety?

10. As we look ahead our guy is optimistic. Why shouldn't he be? He's got ...
a.) A golden parachute? (Note: Not a metaphor -- It's an actual full-sized parachute made entirely of 24-karat gold.)
b.) A board of directors dumb enough to think he's a great CEO?
c.) A new, innovative technology that will totally make you no happier?
d.) Prostate cancer. Nothing spells image rehab like prostate cancer.

11. BONUS QUESTION: Sometimes your CEO guy is actually a gal. (Thanks a lot Title IX!) This can be frustrating because women are like men in so many ways yet still not. You owe it to readers to point this difference out. Do you ...
a.) Note her executive policies are strong enough for a man but made for a woman?
b.) Explain how this finally proves sexism was not that big a deal?
c.) Remark upon her striking looks, flirtatious manner and shockingly bitchy attitude? (But only "When a firm hand is required ...")
d.) Compare her to Hillary Clinton? Ask how she feels about Hillary Clinton? Inquire if she in fact is Hillary Clinton?

Pencils down! How did you do? Really? Oh my. (I thought this was writer-proof.) Well, don't worry. Before publication your CEO's PR team will be on call, and calling, 24 hours a day to help your editors help you earn a perfect score.

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