Study: CEOs as Brand Symbols is Big Business


A survey of some of Europe’s top communication leaders revealed how strong the cult of the business CEO is becoming. With company news, successes and failure now so frequently attributed to specific individuals, the image of business leaders has become vital in terms of corporate reputation.

9 out of 10 Chief Communication Officers throughout Europe say their CEO’s capacity to deal with the media and other critical audiences has become interwoven with the overall success and reputation of their corporations.

Explaining the headline results of this survey, Professor Ansgar Zerfass of Leipzig University, leader of the international research team, said: “The reputation of business leaders at large organizations is now so important. CEOs can make or break corporate brands. Gone are the days of figureheads gliding effortlessly behind the scenes. Today, leaked career moves and public failure can infect a brand severely and quickly. In many cases, the CEO’s brand has become shorthand for the brand of the organization.”

Specifically the survey revealed:

Chief Communication Officers believe their CEO’s communication skills in small group settings are an important factor for the overall success of an organization (93%). The same is true for the CEO’s communication skills facing the media and large audiences (92%), the CEO’s personal reputation (91%), and the CEO’s knowledge of strategic communication (82%) – all are imperative for an organization to be successful.

Overall, the areas in which CEO reputation was regarded as most important were internal communications (25%), public and community relations (20%) and financial communications (19%).

In publicly traded companies, the audiences to which CEO reputation was regarded as most important were financial communications (25%) and internal communications (24%).

For private companies, the audiences to which CEO reputation was regarded as most important were internal audiences (26%), public and community relations (23%) and political audiences (21%).

Of the more than 550 survey respondents, 83% indicated their teams are actively working to position their CEO, and 67% are actively working on announcements and tools related to their CEO’s profile. In addition, 67% are actively working on a communication strategy for their CEO, and 60% are actively monitoring their CEO’s reputation.

Looking at CEO positioning, 31% of messages were designed to convey the CEO’s functional competencies (having the right skills to do the job), and 30% focused on the CEO’s ethical competencies (having the right values). The survey also found that 25% of CEO messages were focused on cognitive competencies (having the right knowledge), and 14% related to personal behaviors (having the right conduct).

Joachim Klewes, Senior Partner at Ketchum Pleon (Germany) said: “The top executive of a company articulates and symbolizes what their organizations are and what they stand for. Essentially, they reduce company complexity and enliven the brand. We are living in an age of responsibility and accountability where the public are looking to identify with real people. Business leaders, who can easily be categorized as heroes or villains, are at the forefront of this change.”

The days of a distant, barely visible corporate authority is gone, explained David Gallagher, Ketchum senior partner and European CEO: “The public often identifies more with the people leading corporations than they do with the corporations themselves. And in fact, our recent Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor study confirms that poor leadership communication directly affects corporate performance and sales. Positioning the CEO as someone who can be remembered and trusted needs careful planning. Companies who think it can be left to fate are taking a huge risk.”

From: Ketchum Pleon

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