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What can PROs do to best support CEOs? Asks Giles Fraser

Recently the PRCA released a study I have undertaken for it on the changing face of CEO communications – The CEO Uncovered.

In summary, the study suggests that today’s CEO is expected to be ever more visible and engaging – both with staff and relevant external stakeholders. We all want to know something about the people who run the businesses we buy products and services from and their reputations are an increasingly important factor in our buying decisions. So, based on these findings, what should PR practitioners consider when they are advising a CEO?

First and foremost, one needs to consider the company’s situation. Do external market factors require high-level of visibility from the CEO? Everyone wants to see leadership especially when things are tough. Then, which stakeholder groups does the company need to communicate with and with what intensity? Staff, customers and investors are always important. If the organisation serves consumers then the degree of influence the CEO profile can have on consumer sentiment needs to be factored in.

Second, how comfortable is the CEO at communicating? It must be said that there are few CEOs who aren’t natural communicators these days. But how much time are they willing to devote to communications activities? Can they sustain that commitment over time or will they have to back off and therefore disappoint some audiences later on? Here it is well worth nothing how highly consumers rate a CEO involvement in good works compared with a presence on traditional and/or social media or networking with politicians.

Each CEO will have a different view on personal risk in terms of communications. Do they prefer to talk only to media and influencers they know or are they confident enough to talk to anyone? Are they willing to speak out on industry issues? (The study reveals quite a few people think that’s a good characteristic in a CEO). Are they willing to share elements of their life outside work? We know that many consumers say they are more likely to trust a business if they know something about the CEO. But there is little point pushing a CEO into being people they aren’t. Inauthenticity can be smelt a mile away.

Third, the corporate narrative needs to be strong, engaging and compelling with a clear central message and different articulations for different stakeholders. The CEO needs to be able to talk a good story with colourful phrases and anecdotes that they can evolve and develop over time. A vanilla set of messages makes a CEO a sitting target. He or she will also need to be trained on these even if they are proficient at presentation.

Finally, the right channels and platforms for each stakeholder group need to be considered. Employee engagement is an ever-greater priority. Many CEOs are spending more and more time on internal employee engagement and trying to make sure they interact with as many discrete groups as possible both face-to-face and electronically. If the internal audience buys the narrative the outside world will too.

Unsurprisingly, the use of social media to reach internal and external audiences was also discussed in the study. There was a strong message from many millennials that they want to see from CEOs active via social media as this helps to build their trust. Ronan Dunne of Telefonica (UK) has some great things to say about this in his video.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to CEO communications. It depends entirely on the company’s need and the individual’s preferences. However, what is clear, is that most CEOs will need to be prepared to reveal a little more of their personality and be more engaging than they have in the past. And they will all need good communications advice to address that challenge.

Article written by Giles Fraser, co-founder of PR firm Brands2Life.

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