Who is the CEO of Amazon? That’s a pretty easy answer.
What about the CEO of UPS? Not quite as easy, right?
Jeff Bezos has become a household name, bringing Amazon lots of free attention and helping to propel it into an e-commerce giant with an enthusiastic international following. UPS would have to spend a lot to deliver its message with the same pervasiveness and emotional connection as Amazon has. How much, one can only wonder.
My point is this: if your company’s CEO lacks a strong personal brand, it’s probably affecting your bottom line. Global executives estimate that 44% of a company’s market value is attributable to CEO reputation.
Why might that be? What is it about executive branding that is so impactful on corporate reputation and, ultimately, a business’ finances?
Consider this: a powerful executive brand is a terrific antidote to an oversaturated marketplace with limitless options. (It’s hard to imagine Tesla reaching the same level of prominence without Elon Musk at the helm.) You may have the right product and the right price point -- and even the right team to sell it -- but those are all irrelevant if people don’t know about your business.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Chief executives represent the company’s vision. The public may have a fascination with businesses and their success stories, but it’s the people we feel connections to, not corporate entities. Speaking engagements, thought leadership articles, and media placements are all effective ways to keep key executives top of mind with important stakeholders.
As Marc Fetscherin says in his book CEO Branding, “Like movie stars who serve as a signal about the expected quality of a forthcoming movie, CEOs serve as a signal to stakeholders about expected company performance.”
Think of some of your favorite companies. Chances are, your interest stems in part from what you feel about the executives who run them. I’m intrigued by Tesla because of Elon Musk’s incredible vision for revolutionizing travel. My positive brand associations with Apple are still, to this day, tied very much to the creative vision left over from Jobs.
Don’t mistake this emotional connection for “feel-good” nonsense. When surveyed, 95% of financial and industry analysts said they would purchase stock based upon a CEO’s reputation, and 94% said they would recommend the stock to others. Perhaps that’s why, on the day Jobs stepped down as CEO, Apple stock fell by 3%, equal to roughly $10 billion of company value. Shareholders simply weren’t sure about a future Apple without its visionary leader.
A CEO’s reputation can have huge internal consequences too. A poor reputation can make talent acquisition particularly difficult: 80% of corporate stakeholders say the CEO’s reputation would influence whether or not they would recommend a company as a good place to work. Given the impact, it’s perhaps no surprise that the employee review site Glassdoor puts the CEO reputation front and center, showing potential employees what percentage of people approve of the company’s chief executive.
Moving Beyond The ‘Behind-The-Scenes’ CEO
When you consider the impact on recruitment, corporate reputation, stakeholder confidence, and growth opportunities, it becomes difficult to ignore the financial impact of a strong executive brand.
So why don’t more executives do something about it?
For many CEOs, the thought of focusing on personal branding is disconcerting. Humility makes it difficult for some to put themselves out there. Most wouldn’t know where to start even if they wanted to. And admitting that one person’s reputation can have that much of an impact on a company’s bottom line is a scary thought.
Even so, the chief executive has no time for bashfulness. Much like networking with colleagues, or holding meetings with key stakeholders, you have to do what’s best for the bottom line, even when it’s uncomfortable.
It doesn’t mean you need to become the next Richard Branson. But it does mean you need to put in the work, and engage in strategies that will turn you from a behind-the-scenes CEO into a public figure.
Book deals. Speaking engagements. Sponsorship opportunities. There are countless ways to develop a stronger executive brand and positively impact your company’s bottom line. The following initiatives are a few of my favorites that I’ve seen work with great effect for our clients.
Improving Search Results: Let’s face it, we live in a search-happy world. If you’ve spoken to a client recently, networked, or gave out a business card, you should absolutely assume you’re being Googled.
What do stakeholders find when they look you up online? Do your search results reflect the first-rate company you represent, or do they look more like a random assortment of irrelevancies and unflattering images from your younger years?
If what comes up is negative or irrelevant, it’s like putting leads in a leaky bucket. No matter how many business cards you give out, the majority are going to be subconsciously (or consciously) turned off by what they find. On the other hand, an impressive online presence will help to reinforce and expand upon the positive experiences you have offline with stakeholders.
Thought Leadership Articles: Publishing sophisticated articles is one of the best ways to boost credibility and position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Whether you publish on third-party publications (more on that below), a corporate blog, or a personal website, what’s most important is that you give yourself a platform to speak about the wins, challenges, and opportunities that are facing your company and industry.
Many executives tell me the hardest part for them is knowing what to write about. Others just don’t have the time. There’s no shame in hiring an external agency to help you develop a content strategy, flesh out your ideas, and pitch out or promote your finished product. Don’t let the daunting task of publishing regularly paralyze you from getting the right ideas in front of the right audience.
Awards & Honors: Ever wonder how some companies and executives earn award after award while others go unrecognized? Awards and honors won’t fall into your lap -- you have to apply for them to even give yourself a chance. It’s a time-consuming process, but one that is well worth the effort.
By securing key honors and awards for your company’s executives, you build brand-name recognition and credibility for your company and its leadership. Take it a step further by sharing the news internally. Get your company excited and encourage employees to share the information with their own networks. Taking the opportunity to remind your employees how much they contribute to these company wins is a great way to get your team to share in the win too.
Media Placements: Talking about how great you are is one thing, but getting third party validation is much more convincing. Earning positive media exposure is instrumental to building your visibility and increasing your credibility.
Getting content placed in top-tier or niche publications is a powerful way to get in front of a wider audience and open more doors for your business. The same is true of press mentions and quotes. Develop relationships with editors and journalists in key publications and you may be surprised by how often they need expert insight.
Social Media: Social media is a valuable mechanism for consistently communicating your brand and engaging with the audiences that care most. If you’re getting bogged down wondering which sites to focus on, try to think of social media platforms like different TV channels. Some people skew toward certain channels more than others, but at the end of the day, they are really just different mediums for people to entertain and educate themselves.
By using a mix of platforms -- LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, the list goes on -- you can reach audiences no matter where they tend to congregate. Social media can be an invaluable tool to drive awareness and nurture leads, but it can also backfire if you’re too quick to post emotional or overly private thoughts before you’ve had a chance to think them through.
My two cents? Think before you post, and don’t delegate social media to your interns.
Originally published on Forbes.com.