By Brad Addison - CoFactor Managing Partner; and communication, engagement and reputation management specialist
Society and stakeholder expectations for organisations and their executives is higher than ever. Companies today are more accountable to their stakeholders and are expected to be purpose and values driven. Similarly, company leaders are increasingly expected to be visible, personal and relatable. They are also expected to have a clear purpose and a focus beyond the company itself.
Through a carefully positioned public presence, executives can be perceived as thought leaders and visionary strategists; and motivators and change managers to their employees. They can use strategic positioning to actively differentiate themselves - and the company.
CEO and Executive Positioning is a Significant Success Factor
Leaders who stand for clearly defined values and speak up on issues are increasingly becoming significant success factors for companies. This includes having a clear company vision, customer focus, regular engagement with stakeholders and care for the well-being of employees and company culture.
The benefits of strategic CEO profiling are numerous. Among the most significant are:
- Getting employee buy-in for the CEO’s vision and increasing engagement
- Rallying important company stakeholders behind the organisation's purpose and values
- Moving and motivating prospective customers; and
- Sending the right signal to investors, regulators and policy makers
Perhaps the most significant benefit is driving a strong CEO reputation that directly translates to the company reputation and that ultimately lifts company value.
How to position CEO and senior executives
Here are five key steps to consider for positioning executives in your organisation:
- Start with your purpose - aligned to the company strategy
- Craft the story - via a narrative and thought leadership
- Build your presence - through a strong profile
- Develop a roadmap - for consistent engagement
- Become Crisis-Ready - to build resilience
1. Start with your purpose - aligned to the company strategy
The purpose of positioning is to influence the place that a company or its brand or leader occupies in the minds of stakeholders and how it is distinguished from competitors.
Align with the company strategy
The executive’s communication and engagement should serve and be aligned with organisational objectives. It should closely correlate to company purpose and the brand’s core messages - to verify the accuracy of claims put forward by the company and vice versa.
Understand stakeholder expectations
The different expectations and information needs of the company’s diverse internal and external stakeholders should be thoroughly identified and understood.
Analyse the executive’s image and strengths
Analyse the executive’s past and current image and role to learn where to start the positioning. What are his or her major business achievements, what makes them unique? What is different about their style of leadership? Why are they doing great things? What can they do that other C-Suite leaders can't?
2. Craft the story - via a narrative and thought leadership
The CEO or executive’s brand narrative defines what the CEO authentically and distinctively stands for. It’s important that the executive narrative connects to the strategic business goals of the company. How can the leader make a concrete contribution that will promote the organisation’s position in a credible manner and ensure the leader is perceived as the prime brand ambassador?
Determine focus areas
Capture the major strategic and opportunity themes and topics and distill them down to 2-3 core focus areas. Take into account the company strategy, the executive’s strengths and interests and topics that are most important to your target audience.
Build the overarching story
A strong executive narrative story can capture a strategy and themes more powerfully than any set of infographics and action plans. Produce a succinct narrative that turns your story and focus areas into something moving, meaningful and memorable. Thought leadership topics can then be identified and developed that express the executive’s passion and that they can embrace and engage in enthusiastically.
Develop thought leadership messaging
Leveraging the overarching story and 2-3 core focus areas, build a solid message platform with core messages to guide how the chosen topics are discussed internally and externally. This might include industry or customer challenges, competitive differentiators or the unique perspective the CEO adds to the discussion. Because the goal of thought leadership is to help others, not to sell anything, all communication should be in the CEO’s voice, not the voice of the company. The key messages should be clear and consistent with supporting talking points or soundbites to match.
3. Build your presence - through a strong profile
A strong executive presence will help tell a consistent, relevant story that is easily discovered. Multiple online and offline platforms can be utilised to enable direct engagement with internal and external stakeholders. Executives should always strive to control the first pages of their personal search results because if they don’t, others will. Search engines rank social content highly, thus making it more likely to be seen when people search for a CEO online.
Get the basics in place
Executives should have a professional photo, story and biography on the company website. This should be prominent and linked to a company blog or news page enabling the content to be easily accessed.
Set up social accounts
Secure the CEO and executive team’s accounts on the major platforms. This includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and, if relevant, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. Of course it’s important to have a strategic plan in place that identifies the goals of social participation, to choose the right social platform, minimise risk and shape the conversation, and deliver the story the CEO intends to share.
Extend your profile
There are thousands of forums including online business magazines along with industry events and conferences taking place every year. Find the most relevant and prominent to your industry and and seek to get your profile uploaded on their sites. This might require writing a piece of content or speaking at an event (see the next section). Aligning yourself to prominent organisations will broaden your profile and enhance your online presence.
4. Prepare an activity roadmap - for consistent engagement
Of course you can’t just declare yourself a thought leader. You need to get out there and share your views on topics of interest and via the channels most likely to influence your stakeholders. Once the strategic positioning and profiling is developed it needs to be translated into an action plan, including a communications activities.
Create compelling content
CEOs should have something to say that keeps their companies at the forefront of change. Content should be aligned to the chosen core topics and relevant to the audience you wish to target. Creating meaningful content necessitates value through unique and thoughtful insights and relevant announcements.
Choose your platforms
Establish your thought leadership through media exposure, speaking, and publishing. Some popular ways of doing so include writing articles, contributing to online discussions, providing expert opinions via the media speaking at company town halls, industry or trade conferences and interviews with industry and business magazines.
Having a social presence enables CEOs to share their stories with a greater audience and without an intermediary. 62% of Fortune 500 CEOs are now actively present on at least one social media platform. While executives often understandably question the time investment involved in building a social profile, being active on one or more social channels is one of the most effective things a CEO can do to steer the online conversation about themselves and the company. Through a LinkedIn profile, for example, business leaders can link to original content and share relevant news stories that inspire and influence their customers, employees and other stakeholders.
5. Become Crisis-Ready - to build resilience
Invest in crisis management
Through early preparation and planning, sensitive issues or a crisis situation can be caught as they emerge. A Crisis Management Plan provides the organisation with a tailored, pre-prepared framework to work through key steps. It’s this plan that enables executives to confidently guide quick and intelligent decision making. The plan ensures employee welfare, maintains the confidence of stakeholders, limits potential reputation damage and legal liability; and speedily brings issues to a full resolution.
Build key messages in advance
Effective crisis communication is integral in the protection of people, assets and brands. Leaders who wait to respond, hesitate or lack visibility of action, create uncertainty and anger. This can materially impact reputation and ultimately company value. Pre-prepared communication will enable you to respond promptly, accurately and confidently in a crisis. Planned communication should include key messages, media and holding statements for relevant crisis scenarios.
Prepare yourself and your team
CEOs need to participate in crisis management exercises with their directors, executive team, and crisis communication team so that when a crisis strikes, each party knows their role and is ready to execute. CEOs should also learn and understand what to do and not to do by looking to case studies of other leaders’ responses. It’s also wise to have strategic communication and reputation management experts on speed dial to help the company kick into action when a crisis inevitably hits.
Interested to learn more?
CoFactor builds strategic positioning and engagement programs to sharpen CEO and executive profiles. Our plans increase their visibility and the quality of their narrative. We help leaders communicate the company’s delivery against its strategy and objectives, aligned to company purpose and its values.