OP-ED: CEO 'branding' is key to shaping corporate reputation

As the demand for corporate transparency increases, so do expectations of our leaders, particularly CEOs.

As the demand for corporate transparency increases, so do expectations of our leaders, particularly CEOs.

Today, a corporation's reputation is indelibly linked to that of its leader. A recent study by Burson-Marsteller indicates that the CEO's reputation is responsible for approximately 50% of a company's reputation. Employees, customers, shareholders, analysts, and the media all monitor the CEO for insights into the corporation's culture, its values, and its personality. In this age of transparency, employees look to the CEO for inspiration and direction. They want to know their role and relevance in the organization, and they rely on the CEO's communication. Today's customers take nothing for granted. More thorough investigations are made before signing on with a supplier or service partner. So much depends on whether a company is solid and reliable. Customers look to the CEO to understand the culture and ethics of the companies they do or plan to do business with. They need to know the company is dependable, stable, and trustworthy. Investors expect the CEO to communicate clearly the company's mission and vision. They are looking to the CEO to convey the corporate strategy, and they need to see a CEO who is believable, credible, ethical, and strategic. Therein lies an opportunity to "brand" the CEO. The key to a successful CEO communications program is an integrated approach. In his book How to Manage Your Global Reputation, Michael Morley says a strong and positive corporate reputation is the "holy grail" of every PR professional, and there is a constellation of elements that contribute to this reputation. The constellation includes employee, government, investor, community, and media relations. Think of the CEO as the nucleus of your reputation-management program. Leverage all CEO communications - and many of the routine activities of your CEO - across these disciplines. When your CEO travels, leverage his or her time with audiences key to the company's success. Schedule one-on-one time with employees, make a customer visit, meet with elected officials, the media, or investors. Key to an integrated reputation program is effective media and government relations. The media values access to company leaders. Prepare your CEO, make him or her available to the media as a resource on a variety of issues, and cultivate healthy relationships with legislative and regulatory officials by sharing with them information that can help them achieve their objectives. The little things the CEO does to help build his or her reputation are also crucial. A CEO should never be too busy to say, "Thank you," send condolences, or take time to celebrate a special occasion with a key constituent. Reputation is built on relationships and personal credibility. There are many benefits to leveraging CEO activities. A unified theme and consistent message is more easily achieved when stakeholders hear one voice and one message. Coordinated timing and improved cost efficiencies (e.g., travel time, staff, etc.) are other benefits to integrating the CEO's communications activities. PR professionals must also think outside the box when managing the CEO's time, and learn to use all of today's communications tools. Integrating and leveraging also means using e-mail, voice mail, VNRs, or 3-D video technology. At Convergys, we have enjoyed great success positioning Jim Orr, our chairman, president, and CEO, as a thought leader within the telecommunications industry and the general business community. We have done so both domestically and internationally by using modern technology to help him simultaneously communicate with key stakeholders at home and abroad through the use of VNRs and teleconferencing. As a global company, Convergys has several offices worldwide, but only one CEO and one corporate reputation. We have also secured high-profile speaking engagements that have positioned Jim with his peers and, in the process, have advanced Convergys' business objectives. An integrated, highly leveraged CEO communications program strengthens your corporate voice and market position. Exposure of your CEO to key constituents not only strengthens his or her credibility, but the increased transparency can translate into higher favorability for your company, its products, and its services.
  • Cheryl Campbell is VP of corporate communications and PR at Convergys Corporation, a global leader in integrated billing and customer- and employee-care services.

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