For better or worse, having an active CEO brand is no longer an option. And while there is a growing understanding of the importance of creating a CEO brand, many leaders still aren't maximizing their personal brands to benefit their businesses.
The leaders I coach seem to fall into three branding categories:
- It's not about me; it's about my company. I don't want to draw that much attention to myself.
- I know I need to be creating more of a brand as a CEO, but I don't know how to do it.
- I'm actively engaged in creating a CEO brand, but not getting traction.
More often than not, these well-meaning leaders are misunderstanding and usually mismanaging their CEO brands in three major ways:
1. Not thinking you need one.
I know I'm in for a long, hard, uphill battle when I get a call from a CEO (or their assistant) telling me that he or she is being told they "need" to create a CEO brand, but they:
a) Don't understand why.
b) Don't want to.
c) Hate this whole idea.
Often, these leaders haven't distinguished the need for what I call a "parallel brand"--the perfect blend of a CEO's personal and company brands. While remaining distinct, these two brands complement each other, simultaneously enhancing the reputation of both the CEO and the business.
2. Delegating your CEO brand.
I often hear from an executive assistant or marketing director tasked with researching the field of available providers and sorting out a short list of candidates to work with their boss on creating a CEO brand.
Too often, however, I find that proposals are being requested prior to a conversation with the CEO themselves. I usually counsel the CEO's agent against this, since it's detrimental to the long-term outcome.
Why? As highly skilled as these folks usually are, effective CEO branding isn't a transactional relationship. Working with leaders on their brands is a very personal experience, blending executive coaching, media training, PR, and personal brand management.
You can't delegate this.
3. Confusing CEO branding with PR.
While media placement in radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, and blogs is an important part of shaping a leader's brand, it's really just one aspect. It's rarely enough to shape a powerful public narrative.
In my experience, there are four specific areas that require attention to build a robust CEO brand:
This can be both large and small: claiming the CEO's name as a URL, getting personal social media, staying on top of search engines to update old photos and information, and much more.
Additionally, being a social CEO is a key way to manage CEO reputation. According to one report by BRANDfog, 75 percent of those surveyed perceive that C-Suite and executive leadership is improved by participation on social media.
A big part of developing a CEO brand is deciding what role thought leadership should play. What impact will a thought leadership strategy have on you and your organization, and how can you align it with your larger organizational goals?
The activities of thought leadership for CEO branding vary greatly depending on the answers to these questions and can include traditional PR and media placement, awards, targeted public speaking, publishing a book, and more.
This is one of the best ways to gain ground in CEO branding, yet it is often considered a second cousin to traditional PR activities when it comes to thought leadership. A robust content marketing strategy is a powerful part of establishing a CEO's brand. Depending on the individual's talents and capabilities, tactics can include:
- A regular CEO blog
- Writing articles
- Publishing white papers
- A weekly podcast
- An e-book
Several years ago, the Center for Talent Innovation did a study on executive presence and found that there were six core traits that determined the degree to which an individual leader was seen as having a strong, positive executive presence. They were:
- Emotional intelligence
The bottom line is that these same qualities are essential to creating a powerful CEO brand. In fact, much of the work I end up doing with leaders is helping them strengthen and translate these same attributes into media readiness, personal brand messaging, and even personal brand identity collateral.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work -- it is. But in a world where almost all information is available on anyone at the click on a keyboard, having a strong CEO brand is not a luxury, but a necessity. So the only question that remains for the modern CEO is not "Am I going to do this?" but "How well?"