Words, deeds and accessibility are the key attributes of leaders

Getting the right spokesperson to say the right thing at the right time is an art, but a little bit of science can help too. According to research by PR firm Ketchum, presented in its Leadership Communication Monitor, the most credible spokespeople must be seen and heard, for example on broadcast media.

When forming your opinion about leaders and leadership which of the below sources do you view as credible?

The research shows that even in this digital age, traditional communication channels, such as press releases, word-of-mouth and print media are more credible sources than digital and social channels. Irrespective of what channel you use, the overwhelming imperative is to ensure the genuine personal presence of the leader comes through strongly.

Over the past year, how credible have you felt each of the following were as a source of info on an organisation?

Rod Cartwright, director of global corporate practice at Ketchum, explains: “For example, this is why CEO blogs tend to be so difficult unless either a) the CEO actually writes it her/himself or b) the writer – like a great speechwriter – is able to fully capture the tone and personality of the leader that their presence comes through.”

“Someone I know who worked on the first Obama presidential campaign said that the difference between them and the Republicans is that they managed to create such a consistency between Obama the real man and Obama the social avatar that people chose to suspend disbelief and believe he had just tweeted them! So presence need not only be physical presence – you can be highly present socially too.”

This was the most popular tweet of all time

Highlighting good work is crucial for businesses’ reputations, but they must ensure that their leaders are visible. Cartwright, sums up the findings: “Our 2013 and 2012 studies lead to a crucial conclusion – that the old ways of doing things in our profession, while still necessary, are not sufficient. Open, transparent communication remains important – the number one attribute of effective leaders for the second year in a row. But without action, it has little value. Words alone, and even words and deeds together, if not backed by a leader’s presence, don’t cut it.”

“In short, the formula for credible leadership that our research has identified – open communication + decisive action + personal presence – continues to be the lodestar for today’s credible leader, and tomorrow’s. ‘Spin is dead, long-live PR’ you might say. While comms is central, it is the combination of words, deeds and presence that really makes for credible, effective leadership – with leadership being far more than just the single ‘leader’ or CEO.”

The report offers five key findings for leaders:

  1. Never overlook the importance of knowing how to communicate well, and often.
  2. Employees and third parties are among the most trusted sources of information about your organisation, so their engagement is critical to effective corporate messaging.
  3. Your physical presence is important in shaping opinions of credibility. People need to see and hear you speak.
  4. Ultilise traditional media channels as these are seen as the most credible. They include in person contact; press releases; televised speech; and broadcast media.
  5. You have a tough road ahead if you are a politician. Politicians are seen as the least trusted type of leader when quoted in the media.

Cartwright highlights the importance of good leadership with one vital statistic: “60% of respondents globally have either bought less from a company or stopped buying altogether in the last 12 months (from the time the study was fielded) as a result of poor perceptions of leadership.”


Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and IPSOS fielded an online survey of 6,000 respondents in 12 markets from 2012 to 2013. You can download the report here: Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor and watch a presentation.