How to balance your CEO's brand with the corporate brand

The path to a harmonious relationship between the CEO brand and corporate brand is not always a straightforward one. This is backed up by the latest Communications Tracker Pulse from recruitment firm Whitney Murray in partnership with insights company The Pulse Business.

All ears

Over half (53%) of those pulsed agree that listening and not being dazzled by the media spotlight are the most important traits for CEOs. In fact, many respondents feel that “listening to advice across the whole organisation” is a vital part of a CEO’s work.

One communications director adds: ”As a communications director, you are managing the reputation of the institution. The CEO is an important part of that, but needs to listen to advice, learn about reputation management and not put their personal objectives ahead of that institution.” This sentiment is echoed by 27% of respondents who said that an absence of ego was essential (from the CEO and the board) for the simple reason that it “prevents conflict".

Look and learn

Keeping your eye on the big picture is recommended. In the words of one chief communications officer, the ideal CEO looks like this: “My CEO has no ego. He has not done an ‘off the record’ media interview in a decade. The shares have quadrupled over that time. You don’t have to be Martin Sorrell or Richard Branson to be a successful CEO. In previous roles, I had ‘CEOs’ who wanted to be famous. They were unrealistic about what the media would and wouldn’t do and it all ended in tears.”

Forget ego

Another communications director put forward: “My CEO has ‘no brand’. It makes communications much easier. When I hear that a CEO has hired a head of CEO communications, I’m ready to short the stock.” 

Which one of these is the best way to remedy tensions between the CEO brand and the Corporate brand?

Julian Pike, partner at Farrer & Co, a law firm specialising in reputation management, observes: “The juxtaposition of ego versus the right thing to do when it comes to safeguarding a brand’s reputation is fascinating. There has to be a balance between CEO brand and corporate brand. Finding that balance often becomes a tug of war and the wider implications of that are felt not just through the share price but across a wider stakeholder community.”

Working together

The Pulse reveals that tensions and tempers understandably rise when an organisation is beset by internal or external challenges. 55% of comms leaders believe that an open and co-operative approach is the best way to resolve problems inside or outside the organisation.

Which one of these is essential so the CEO brand and Corporate brand can work together?

Imogen Osborne, founder of The Pulse Business, asserts: ”These findings tell us is that it’s really down to the brand to be the solution to its own problem. As one comms director shares, straight talking is needed. Making sure everyone really understands what the problem is and the wider ramifications, is a given.”

Julian Pike adds: “Managing the potential fallout and conflict between the CEO brand and corporate brand - especially when a CEO likes to talk and provide a desired back story the media crave for - requires sensitivity and robustness. Knowing when to step in and guide is critical. Listening first, as this Pulse survey has shown, is an excellent starting point. From here, you can work out what it is you want to achieve from any kind of media coverage - especially if you don’t want any coverage at all!”

Methodology

The Whitney Murray Communications Tracker 2022 ran from September 14th-20th across a sample size of c800 communications and corporate affairs directors based in the UK.

Written by Rebecca Whitney, managing director of Whitney Murray

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