While this trend plays out among company brands, spare a thought for how chief executives might adjust. After all, the role requires personal and company brands to merge somewhat.
CEOs will feel this acutely, as personal brand is typically low on their list of priorities. In the last year, those I have met speak of a selfless commitment to their employees, their board and their company – the link to personal reputation is hard to prioritise, despite what I believe are clear company benefits. The values of a CEO run through a business like nobody else’s. Not strategy; values. This is why the trend we are seeing of companies taking a stand on key issues should matter to business leaders. It is a short leap to expect the CEO to be an exponent of the company mission.
But personal brands are more complicated. You have to be able to transfer your personal brand and values from one company to the next. In reverse, a company brand has to be able to thrive in spite of who is at the helm. So, the personal brand of a CEO cannot – must not – directly lift from the latest ad campaign. It has to run deeper.
It is right to clarify what you believe in, which is not as easy as it sounds if you have spent your career putting others first. One Scottish CEO I spoke to recently told me how their career had been built on helping others. Another spoke of the importance of nurturing talent and putting staff first.
These are values, aren’t they? In fact, both of those examples also include deeper rooted intentions, hopes and belief systems that come naturally in conversation but are rarely articulated in a more deliberate forum. Scottish leaders would be ill advised to feel they are immune to what is a growing expectation to take a stand.
Scotland’s role in the world is currently under debate and while that takes many forms, its larger employers face a real challenge to attract talent and develop new growth opportunities. This isn’t about being political – it is about acknowledging the real connection between company and character; between product and person. There is only one role in any business for which this really matters.
Let this be a warning to CEOs: the trend is coming your way. Brands are demonstrably bolder in speaking out on key issues and, by virtue of this, brands are riskier: taking a stand invites critique. From Brexit to sexism via patriotism, race relations and sustainability, there are countless examples of issues openly being addressed by firms. CEOs in Scotland aren’t used to polarising audiences. The majority exist to serve their companies and make a difference. The idea of alienating any audience is anathema to most. Honesty and introspection are key. It is easy to tell someone what they want to hear but far harder to tell someone what you truly believe. CEOs are used to speaking their minds, but mostly in the context of objective, commercial logic.
The role of CEO is isolating and stressful, but more time must be spent understanding and articulating personal brand, just as greater efforts are now being expended by company brands to stand up for something.
CEOs who feel they can avoid this must remember how frequently they represent colleagues and customers. Most do not have (or want) a mainstream, public platform to make a point. But all share more connections to, and relationships with, key stakeholders than any other employee. Those interactions are as important as any advertising campaign. So be prepared, because the questions are coming.
- Billy Partridge, director and reputation management expert at Grayling