Louise Vaughn at PR agency Definition explains why the reputation of business leaders is as important as the reputation of their brands
CEOs are the personification of their brand. They should humanise their business and build respect and trust – not just from consumers and clients but employees, the market and the media. To do this authenticity is key.
But equally, the qualities that are often the makings of the best leaders – conviction, passion, resilience, pride – can be their downfall when it comes to expressing views that jar with their brand or their customer.
Over the last few months there have been a catalogue of high-profiling failings in this area. For example, Jamie Dimon, the outspoken CEO for JPMorgan Chase received heated public criticism following the bank’s backing of the European Super League, which resulted in its ESG ranking fall from “adequate” to “non-compliant”. Meanwhile KPMG’s UK Chair Bill Michael resigned after telling staff to ‘stop moaning’ about the pandemic. Very different scenarios, but both commercially damaging for the brands they represent.
It’s critical that leaders develop their personal brand and provide a reliable, trustworthy figurehead, whilst reassuring internal and external stakeholders. But how do you get it right?
Making an impression
Personal brand is a key element that comes into play when a person or a company is undergoing changes, either within the business or a desired change in reputation or perception. They can be deliberately modified to reinvent a public persona and is a key aspect of a public relations campaign.
The role of the CEO has never been more reputationally critical than it is today. The pandemic has magnified ten-fold the expectation for a business leader to do what’s morally right, as well as commercially right. Research such as the Edelman Trust Barometer has shown that workers expect their leaders to be a figurehead of trust in challenging times. This means having a respected CEO at the helm is fundamental not only to attracting the right customers, but the right talent and investment too.
Anyone with access to the internet and social media can build an audience, position themselves as an expert and start attracting clients for their business. And that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing.
As a CEO, personal brand can place success, leadership, and innovation at the heart of your professional identity. Developing an identity beyond your brand can contribute to the wider public perception of the company. An authentic, recognisable figure can personify corporate decision and evoke trust.
Beyond how it fits with your current company, your personal brand can also see you preparing for the future. Whether a retirement, sale or career change there are lots of reasons that lead to CEO exits, which is why its important to have a plan. You’ll find yourself with more options if more people know you as a leader in your field, and an established profile can be leveraged to create new opportunities.
The most important thing when building a professional reputation is to focus on quality not quantity. The value of your network lies in genuine connections rather numbers. Whether you are looking for new business connections or media profiling opportunities there is no substitute for attracting the ‘right’ audience.
If you are looking for event speaking opportunities, you’ll want to focus on building an engaging and authoritative public profile, while if you want for Non-Executive Director roles you might focus on being an agile all rounder who would be an asset to any board, regardless of sector. There are lots of ways to approach building your own brand, but its important to establish how you want to be seen early in the process.
Get the message right
Which part of the conversation do you want to be associated with? If you have exhibited a commitment to innovative and flexible working conditions, you’ll probably be best suited to talking about people management. If you have built your company from nothing and driven a period of exponential growth you might want to engage with businesses near the start of their entrepreneurial journeys.
Crafting messaging is rarely a case of creating something from scratch. Your brand is a manifestation of your career experiences. Your successes, failures, reputation and personality will all form a significant part of who you are as a leader, with your personal brand merely bringing it to the fore.
Reaching your audience
Kyle Gray, author of The Story Engine, said: “The foundation of a strong personal brand is how well you understand your audience and the problems they face. Then you can define why you care and how you solve those problems, which is what you’ll be remembered for.”
There are a variety of channels that can help you reach your audience. Social media provides you with your own direct link to your network. The persona that you develop on your channels will inform the opportunities that it creates. To some extent, it will be reflective of the company you lead. A CEO of a tech start-up is probably more likely to have an informal persona that the chairman of a traditional bank. It is vital to understand your target audience as well as any existing perceptions of you or your company.
Traditional media remains hugely influential. Being seen in the key publications in your sector will raise your profile and credibility as a business leader. Being seen in respected publication is a sure-fire way of impressing new and prospective clients. As key issues arise in your sector, it will be important to voice your opinion, thereby establishing yourself as a true thought leader on the cutting edge of new developments.
Speaking opportunities and webinars are also vital components of building authority and recognition whilst projecting your personality and voice. For the same reason, podcasts can be a great tool and the personal touch that you lose compared to in-person events or webinars is often mitigated by a significantly increased audience.
Like most things in the world of business, building your own personal brand is a journey. Once you have crafted your messaging, developed your persona and built your network, your brand will need to be cultivated and maintained to maximise the returns.
At Definition, we work with some of the country’s most exciting entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to build profile and reputation as part of our Brand You programme. No matter what the sector, one thing rings true across all – building a personal profile is about development and momentum.
It takes time and financial investment, but when done well it accelerates growth, creates real commercial opportunity and protects the most valuable asset you have. You.
Louise Vaughan is Co-founder and Managing Director of Definition – one of the UK’s leading PR agencies, specialising in reputation management. She is listed in PR Week’s Powerbook 2021 of the most influential communications professionals in the UK.
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com