Want executive visibility? Stop looking in the wrong places

How to understand the shifting world of getting your executive in front of the right people at the right time.

There’s never been a better time to launch an executive visibility initiative. Business leaders are increasingly expected to be active ambassadors for the companies they represent, and to tell authentic, compelling stories that go beyond the numbers. Meanwhile, the number, variety and scale of conferences and events, corporate rankings, and digital platforms has exploded, creating a truly target-rich environment. And yet, for business leaders and the communications professionals who advise them, it’s not all good news. The business of executive visibility has also become far more complicated, confusing, and difficult to navigate.

Just how much has the landscape changed?

Consider the growth of South by Southwest, which welcomed about 700 people and hosted 15 panels in 1987, its first year. Fast forward to 2016, when 30,000 people – including the sitting U.S. president – attended 378 events at more than 100 venues.

Or think about Fortune’s portfolio of rankings and awards, which has also bloomed in recent years. Once known for its annual list of the world’s 500 largest corporations and "Most Admired" ranking, today Fortune presents more than 30 rankings and awards, everything from Businessperson of the Year to Best Workplaces for Parents.

The rapid evolution of LinkedIn, the "world’s largest professional network," is another great example of how different things are. LinkedIn, which didn’t even exist in 2000, boasts more than 500 million members in 200 countries, including 138 million members in the US. The company also hosts an annual three-day event called Talent Connect, which last year was attended by representatives of more than 1,400 companies from around the world.   

All this change represents a world of opportunity for executive positioning programs. Yet it also means business leaders and communicators face a daunting array of options. That’s why we recently commissioned a study to explore the value and challenges associated with different executive visibility platforms. Our Most Valuable Platforms research yielded some surprising and instructive results.

For instance, business and communications executives think events, awards, and rankings, and digital platforms are all important, but struggle to prioritize where to spend time and money. Most do not feel sufficiently well-informed about the options to make strategic decisions. In fact, on average, one in four respondents said they only "kind of understand" the executive visibility platforms available to them.

Priorities also appear to be shifting. Although CEO summits and councils are seen as important, technology, women’s, and ideas-focused conferences are viewed as gaining importance. Corporate reputation, workplace, and CEO awards and rankings are viewed as important, but opportunities related to innovation, diversity, and sustainability are expected to increase in importance in the coming years.

Moving forward, business decision-makers and communicators want to be more active on digital platforms, such as LinkedIn, and recognize the opportunities created by branded channels. Many want to host their own and sponsor major events in future, all considerable investments of time and money that require careful planning and execution.

Today’s communications counselors have an opportunity to take a more thoughtful approach to identify, leverage and measure the results of executive visibility platforms. Here are three simple ways to help you and your organization get the most from the ever-changing world of executive visibility platforms:

Find your bearings
On average, just one in four survey respondents said they "kind of understand" the platforms available to them. Before you dive in, conduct an audit of the landscape to understand potential opportunities and challenges, and to identify what you need to succeed. Unless you start with a clear, well-informed strategy, it will be tough to choose the right platforms and effectively measure return on participation.

Tailor your approach
Our research confirms that effective executive positioning programs require a customized approach. CEOs are generally more concerned with burnishing reputation, increasing visibility, sharing thought leadership, and connecting with multiple stakeholders. Other business decision-makers are more focused on clients or customers and new commercial opportunities. Aligning on the personal and business priorities of each executive is critical to success.

Establish your metrics
Too many organizations don’t spend the time and resources needed to create a structured, strategic approach to measuring the return on participation of each executive visibility platform. In fact, almost four in five of those who responded to our survey said they need a more formal process for measuring return on participation. To effectively manage opportunities and business-leader expectations, you first need to know what success will look like when you get there.

Alan Sexton is U.S. VP, chair of the U.S. corporate and financial practice, and New York market leader at Burson-Marsteller. 

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