In an era of global economies, more than ever before, companies are intrinsically linked with the people that run them, and CEOs can be their best (or worst) brand ambassadors.
So, why should companies consider increasing the profile of their CEOs? Is the risk worth the reward? Advancing corporate responsibility initiatives, delivering industry and policy reform, progressing business priorities and bolstering the brand are all excellent reasons. In today's world, being a faceless organisation in a community can come at a cost, with reputation and loyalty becoming more difficult to establish and maintain during the ebbs and flows of business. Whereas a local face and identity can add real value to your brand – and your bottom line.
The public wants to see action on things they care about, and they believe it is the role of business to lead from the front on significant social and industry issues. It's not enough to fly under the radar. However, there are risks, and having a position on a societal issue can be polarising if the position taken isn’t authentic and overwhelmingly supported by both the business and the Board.
Consumers and employees alike want to know whether they believe in what the CEO stands for. By positively contributing to the overall brand identity, the CEO can help build a more personal relationship that will help them through the good and not so good times.
So, what should leaders, or anyone who wants to raise their profile, consider?
Passion is the most crucial ingredient when it comes to profile raising. Unless a CEO is personally invested in either the issues they are championing, or building their profile – the task is near impossible. Authenticity needs to be at the core of the proposition, and if a leader is not personally invested and just going through the motions then this can be spotted from a mile off, doing more damage than good.
Find a niche and repeat, repeat, repeat. The magic combination of relevance, timeliness and authority will help identify topics and issues that make the most sense to champion. A CEO needs to be able to speak with authority on the topic, but unless it's part of public conversation at that time, it will fall on deaf ears. Alan Joyce is an excellent example of a leader who is intrinsically linked with a household brand.
As a leader in business, he's quite rightly taken a stand on several issues. One issue that he was particularly passionate about was marriage equality. Mr Joyce, who is openly gay, threw his weight and the weight of Qantas behind the Yes campaign. Although Mr Joyce was subject to both positive and negative publicity due to his position on marriage equality, he used his profile effectively to urge other business leaders not to be silent. Passion, relevance, timeliness and authority – the perfect combination.
When building your plan, there are so many opportunities available to you. Host an industry roundtable, petition Government, campaign on social media, bring community members together, sponsor relevant initiatives, use a keynote to make a point or write an op-ed. Ideally, do all of the above. Whatever the method, it's not enough for leaders to only have a position on a topic anymore. Actions speak louder than words and beliefs, and the public want to see concrete examples of actions being taken on issues that matter to them.
Finally, building the brand through personal profile raising doesn't have to be the sole domain of a CEO or managing director. If appropriate, map out topics and opportunities for executive or non-executive directors to help progress business and social priorities. But make sure that messaging and activities are coordinated and complementary at all times.
Mr Joyce summed it up nicely during the marriage equality campaign, "I think corporate Australia, if it's to fix the reputation it has out there, needs to be vocal on social issues. That's what good businesses do. They are part of society, they help promote societal change, and help promote what's good for our people.”