What's Your CEO Brand?
Written by Kurt Theriault for C-Level Magazine August 2016
Proliferation of social media, self-publishing tools, 24-hour news cycles and topic-specific news channels have led to branding and marketing opportunities for firms and individuals like never before, both for the good and the bad.
In 2012, a local Minneapolis-based public relations firm conducted a study seeking insight as to how the reputation of an organization’s top executive impacts the associated company’s perception.
Executives interviewed reported that, on average, 49 percent of the reputation of their company is attributable to the reputation of their CEO. In turn, 60 percent of a company’s market value is derived from its reputation.
Certainly, there is plenty on the line when it comes to the CEO’s reputation. You can bet, in the few years since that study, the impact has grown.
I sat with Rose McKinney, the principal of Pineapple RM, a Twin Cities reputation-management agency to understand her perspectives about why having and developing an executive brand is so critical.
Theriault: For starters, can you touch on the distinction between brand and reputation?
McKinney: Brand is something you have control over, that you determine you are going to go present to the market. Reputation is the living, breathing perception of your brand – the delivery of that brand promise.
Therefore, a good way to think about it is, your brand is only as good as your reputation.
Theriault: For an organization, why is CEO brand important to establish?
McKinney: Today, many consumers carefully consider who they align with before engaging with an organization’s products and services. They consider things, such as does the organization have good people? What does the organization stand for? Ultimately, they are determining whether their values align with the organization’s.
For an organization, the CEO brand becomes another touchpoint for their stakeholders and community to make those decisions.
Therefore, it has become very important for the CEO to have a well-recognized, defined, authentic brand as well that aligns nicely with what the company is all about. The top executive, the CEO, must demonstrate the brand. They are part of the story.
Theriault: What are the benefits for the CEO?
McKinney: There are many! For one, positive executive brand and reputation can have a monumental impact on employee retention and culture. The CEO and leadership team ensure that an organization keeps moving forward. Leadership can reassure people internally that they are in the right place and that their contributions are meaningful and valuable.
Two, the CEO brand also connects with the general public. People really want to know that organizations are well managed, are good corporate citizens, have good governance, are visionary and doing the right things. That message can be delivered through the CEO.
As consumers, we want to see the CEO of the companies we support as human beings, that they are approachable, accessible and live their brand.
Lastly, the CEO has a career to protect. What’s going to be their legacy for this engagement and what is next for them? Their personal brand can help craft that for them.
Theriault: Does this concept apply to small and midmarket company CEOs?
McKinney: I’d advocate that it’s even more important for them. In this size organization, oft en the top executive is the brand.
If you are the leader of a smaller organization, it is important to think about your leadership and what it is you want to convey. Are you involved in your industry and connected to peers? Are you a thought leader in your space? Whatever it is your brand stands for, is that in play?
Lastly, for you as the CEO, your personal brand is what will keep you on task and drive your success. As a small business owner, it is really easy to fall off track and become reactive. When you are true to your brand, you don’t react as much. You’re more proactive and stay on the path you’ve declared for you and ultimately, your business.
Theriault: Does there need to be a distinction between the organization’s brand and the CEO’s brand?
McKinney: While the organization’s brand stands for one thing, it’s important that the CEO – and other leaders in the company – exhibit and demonstrate that brand in their own unique way. This is incredibly important in a client service business.
Doing so will allow customers to have two relationships. One, with the organization itself and the other with different people within the organization they work with.
It safe proofs the organization by giving the customer multiple relationships. It allows for buy-in to the organization’s approach.
The customer will have belief that the leader is going to make sure that the organization stays true to its brand, yet they can have an alliance with the people that they interact with that service the business.
Theriault: How do you go about creating a personal brand if it hasn’t been mindfully thought through to this point?
McKinney: An executive likely already has a brand. The question is whether it is the brand that they purposefully created or is it the brand that evolved over time? It is likely a combination of the two.
Regardless, you can start by writing down what you want someone’s impression of you to be.
Then, review any third-party items you might have, such as recommendations, reviews and testimonials. Pull out and review the adjectives. Is there a consistent theme? Compare it to your list. Identify what’s missing or surprising to you and what seems to resonate with others.
A good brand is something that is true today, but also something you aspire to be. Doesn’t mean you have to be the best at it, or perfect at it. Rather, it means it is what you are shooting for. Narrow it down to a handful, maybe three things. It should define who you are, how you do things, what you stand for, what people can expect from you and how you will delight them.
Source: https://www.webershandwick.com/uploads/news/files/CEO_Spotlight_ ExecSummary.pdf
Article featured in C-Level Magazine August 2016