Is your CEO part of your marketing mix? On a proactive level, that is? Obviously that depends a lot on the business sector you are in and the ecosystem that is built around that sector. But often the CEO can play a major role in the marketing that a company does. What they say and do can have a direct impact on business, making them a fantastic (or detrimental) marketing tool. Using CEOs, many companies have managed to personalise their business by promoting them as prominent figures in society. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson are names familiar to all of us. We read about them everywhere from the Financial Times to OK! Magazine. The departure of Jobs saw a significant drop in Apple’s share price and we’ve seen the Murdoch father-and-son combination very publically close a long standing newspaper during some torrid times at News International. Conversely, Richard Branson’s record breaking stunts have certainly boosted the Virgin brand, and when the CEO of a tech company is the subject of a blockbuster movie as in the case of Zuckerberg, you can be sure it adds to the brand rather than detracts from it.
Now, few businesses have CEOs with such external personalities and usually, but not always, these doyens are the founders or very early employees in their companies. The majority of large scale businesses have CEOs that have worked through the ranks or been appointed from other companies. Can these type of leaders be “branded”? I would say so. Your CEO can most certainly represent the brand values of your company. With marketing representing up to double-digit expense-to-revenue spend (depending on the sector) you can bet marketing is a very visible and important discipline for him or her. The CMO has a real opportunity to turn their CEO into a valuable marketing advocate.
But what happens when things go wrong and your CEO’s actions attract a bad response? What if they’re having a bad day and say the wrong thing, does that spell the end to your brand? Is the CEO bigger than the brand? By taking the right approach to marketing, your brand can be covered from every angle. It’s great if your CEO has personality, is extraverted and easily marketed but that shouldn’t be the be all and end all. Having other spokespeople to communicate your brand can help when things go awry with the CEO. It makes your company less vulnerable in certain situations. What would have happened to the Virgin brand if something happened to Richard Branson during the fire on his Island? Who in Virgin is known enough to step in and speak to the media, shareholders, partners or employees? In B2B marketing it’s useful to promote several members of senior management through interviews and speaking opportunities. This provides a convenient security blanket should you need a senior member of staff to step in and fill the media boots of the CEO.
In addition, your entire marketing plan should be tight so that the brand speaks for itself. By ensuring that outside of your CEO’s actions, you’re building up a strong and trusted brand, a bad day can be yesterday’s news (providing the problem doesn’t involve regular phone hacking). Your brand needs to have its own voice, not just the voice of the CEO. By continuing to build up your product and your service, by listening to your customers and making them happy, it should be possible to minimise the detrimental effects to the company or the brand if something happens to the CEO. Use your CEO as a marketing tool to significantly add to the mix but develop all other areas of marketing so that the onus is not purely on the CEO to keep the brand alive.
As long as it is part of a fully formed communications strategy it is clearly beneficial to let customers and partners know your company by letting them get to know your CEO. Humanize and personalize your company through your CEO. You don’t have to go to the extreme of turning your CEO into a blogging maven like Jonathan Schwartz at Sun. But, by carefully placing and promoting videos of your CEO, by getting them invited to C-level events with speaking opportunities and by linking anything they are passionate about outside work to your company, your CEO just may become your biggest marketing asset.