CEO survey verifies need to combine old and new tactics

For the first time, this year's PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey asked respondents how important it was to be considered an influencer in their respective industries.

For the first time, this year's PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey asked respondents how important it was to be considered an influencer in their respective industries. Not surprisingly, 85.4% found it "extremely important." But given the crowded marketplace in most industries and the increasingly fragmented media landscape, establishing a profile as such can be difficult - not only for CEOs, but also for companies in general.

While technology has certainly increased the ways in which CEOs can communicate with their various constituents, interestingly enough the survey's respondents viewed traditional, offline activities as more effective in establishing their profile. Activities such as speaking at community events, appearing at trade shows or conferences, and attending networking events with other CEOs were among the practices viewed as "extremely effective" in establishing their profile within their industry. Meanwhile, new-media tactics such as speaking on webcasts and writing blogs were on the bottom of the list.

Clearly there are companies where new and social media have played an important part in establishing the CEO as an influencer, as is the case with Sun Microsystems' Jonathan Schwartz. And so the survey findings certainly shouldn't dismiss the effectiveness of new- and social-media tactics in establishing a profile for a CEO. Rather, they should serve as a reminder for PR pros that a balance between traditional and new tactics is what works best for most clients.

That thinking not only holds true for raising the visibility of a CEO within a company, but also for garnering exposure for the organization itself. For example, while a company blog can certainly be a good place to announce the launch of a new product, doing so at trade shows and conferences still has the power to create an unbelievable level of buzz - as Steve Jobs has shown time and time again.

Many of the CEOs PRWeek interviewed recognized that personal interaction with key stakeholders, while time consuming, was very valuable at not only raising their individual profile, but also that of their company - which is really the ultimate goal. Survey respondents reported that, on average, they spend 35.9% of their time communicating face-to-face with external constituents. That level of personal interaction, while perhaps not possible for all CEOs, is something that can be applied instead to a company's PR plans.

Several companies have recognized that in order to develop a meaningful connection with an increasingly discerning consumer, they need to create a way for the target audience to interact personally with the company and its brands. It's a point that has come up repeatedly during PRWeek's regional roundtables and it's perhaps best illustrated by the recent surge in events as a PR tool - especially those that are geared toward consumers.

No two clients are the same. But a PR plan that can incorporate new tactics, while still recognizing the value of the old, is one that will ultimately succeed.

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