A couple of years ago I attended a conference where I heard a CEO tell a deceptively simple story with a message that’s stayed with me ever since.
She explained how the General Manager at her company had been trying to push a deal through with a supplier over several months with a lot of difficulty. After just one meeting with the supplier herself, the CEO secured a new agreement.
In a conversation afterwards, the dumbstruck General Manager asked why it was so much easier for his boss to broker the deal with the supplier. She turned to him and simply said:
“It’s because they like me.”
She wasn’t being immature – she was making a point. Being liked in business reflects well on your brand, opens opportunities and can make collaboration a heck of a lot easier. It’s a big part of the reason why ‘branding the CEO’ is just as important as branding your entire organisation.
A few caveats:
- Being ‘liked’ doesn’t mean being a push-over or a crowd-pleaser.
- And being a ‘branded CEO’ only works if you’re authentic.
So why brand the CEO?
Information is more accessible than ever – with a few clicks, prospective customers, suppliers and collaborators can find out who leads an organisation, and in many cases, deep-dive into their professional and personal history. Branding your CEO (or yourself, for any CEOs reading) is about taking control of this information, which is becoming critical to people interested in your company.
Establishing a brand, or put simply, a public voice and personality for the CEO, helps create added awareness about your company and its values. It’s a clever way to gain brand advocates (without transacting with them first) and ultimately, helps boost the position of your organisation within your industry.
Effective CEO branding
These are the basics that help create a brand for business leaders.
Get personal (but not too personal)
Ditch the corporate speak and take a more conversational approach. Don’t be shy to show a little humour, humility and even vulnerability. Share personal experiences and tell real stories and learnings. Just keep in mind that anything the CEO says will always be tied to their company, so be professional, and if you’re aiming to be controversial have a risk mitigation plan in place to put out any PR fires.
It’ll be tempting to spruik company services but resist the urge – remember, by creating positive CEO sentiment you’re inadvertently promoting your business anyway. The point of branding your CEO is to provide value to the community, along with interesting content. We repeat. No selling!
Curate your social media
The first place to start when branding the CEO is on their existing, public-facing social media channels. Make a cup of tea, buckle in and scroll back. All the way back. Anything unsavoury, out-of-context, strange or no longer relevant to your leader’s current position needs to go. And moving forward, every post/photo/opinion that’s publicly shared should be scrutinised from a risk point of view. Could what you’re posting be misconstrued? Does it align with company values? – Ideally, you should have a framework in place to ensure content is aligned to your goals.
Mix up your content and amplify
CEO branding takes many forms – from sharing public speaking gigs, to blogs and social media, along with mixing professional photos/video with personal content to create a “full picture”. Be creative and diverse in the content you create and amplify your CEO’s voice using external channels and forums (e.g. editorial in trade magazines).
Think carefully about your angle
What’s your angle – is your CEO a game changer? A thought leader? Someone who seeks to inspire others? Do you want to create disruption in your industry? – these are important questions to answer and should guide your content to remain consistent.
Finally, we think it’s always worth learning from the best – so here are three CEOs we think do a pretty good job of putting their best face forward:
- Richard Branson – the obvious choice, the king! – and for good reason. It often feels like Branson invented the branded business leader. Whether that’s true or not, he’s definitely a pioneer of it – check him out on Twitter.
- Janine Allis – Australian founder of Boost Juice bars, author and TV personality Janine Allis may have a larger-than-life presence, but it’s her disciplined approach to blogging and updating her social media platforms that keeps her connected with advocates. See Janine’s website.
- Ben Lerer – The co-founder & CEO of major media disrupter, Thrillist Media Group, Ben is a young CEO who keeps things real (and aligned to company brand) for his thousands of Instagram followers.