CEO gaffes never cease to amaze and the past several years have been rife with prime examples. Whether it’s former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s insistence on sailing yachts in the days and weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s references to Obamacare as fascism or Chick-fil-A President Don Cathy’s anti-gay remarks, top business executives keep us guessing.
As further evidence, earlier this month former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason had us scratching our heads when he compared his leadership successes and foibles to completing levels of the 1980s Nintendo game, Battletoads.
I don’t play Battletoads – didn’t even know what it was until a week ago – but that’s irrelevant. The point is that leadership has a strong influence on our brand perceptions, and ultimately loyalty. Esoteric references don’t help a brand. Given the 24-hour news cycle and explosive number of social media platforms that can turn small missteps into huge mistakes in a matter of moments, it’s now more important than ever before for executives to chart a measured path in their public appearances and remarks. This is particularly true when commenting on personal perspectives that may fall outside their business expertise.
As communications strategists, we often walk a fine line with our clients to create and balance their public personas and brand reputations. Given our new social media realities, many may want to retreat and lay low, which may be helpful in the short run, but isn’t a long-term strategy.
Executive visibility and reputation management campaigns remain a critical component of any strategic communications plan.
At GroundFloor Media, we recommend that executive clients focus on knowing a few topics really well outside of their core day-to-day business, rather than trying to be an expert on everything. Doing so, positions c-level leaders as the real experts in key topic areas and provides guideposts for public comment. The media and other industry stakeholders will come to know these leaders as a go-to resource on specific issues and won’t necessarily expect them to stray from that expertise.
Creating this framework and designated expertise is foundational to any executive visibility and reputation management program. For executives such as Groupon’s Mason, who may be over eager to discuss any topic that comes his way, it provides a framework to reign in their comments and stay on topic. And for executives at the other end of the continuum who might be hesitant to make themselves available to the media or public, it provides a platform for them to shine, limiting the risk of uncomfortable topics or difficult questions.
Employees, consumers and investors, all want to see and hear from our leaders. Executives need to seek counsel and get out there in the way that deepens their connections to the public, while also reinforcing key brand attributes – without making comparisons to 1980s-era video games.