Will the CEO Please Stand Up? Why CEOs Must Embrace Executive Communications

Will the CEO Please Stand Up? Why CEOs Must Embrace Executive Communications

Last updated on May 24, 2022 at 04:14 pm

A CEO speaking publicly on behalf of their company used to signal that the end was near. I remember when Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2006, appeared in a series of ads titled “Rebirth.” His message, that Ford was “determined to retake the American roadway,” came when as many as 14 factories were closing, resulting in the elimination of 30,000 jobs and senior management ranks being gutted. His presence in the ads was seen as unfavorable while so many people lost their jobs. Sure enough, less than a year later, Ford was out as CEO, and upheaval in their business continued for years. Was he the right person to give this message? Did his style of executive communications hurt the turnaround message at Ford?

The CEO Comms Shift

For today’s comms pro and marketer, the perception of the CEO or executive leader communicating has changed. CEOs are no longer seen as the communicator of last resort. Instead, they have to be visible. They have a huge impact on the acceptance of your company in today’s global landscape. But our strategies for executive communication have changed as well. CEOs can’t just be the face of the company, they have to be well-versed in the socio-political climate and their employees’ needs and take a stance…all while coming across as relatable but authoritative. 

This shift has been a long time coming. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer’s updated data points around CEOs being the face of change are stunning: 

  • 60% of employees globally say that when considering a job, they expect the CEO to speak publicly about controversial social and political issues that they care about.
  • 81% think “CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society.” 

The majority of employees surveyed want their CEO to speak on topics like jobs and the economy, technology, and wage inequality. This isn’t surprising, considering the current state of the world and the fact that nearly every other source of information is seen as untrustworthy (Edelman). The question is, will CEOs step up and make sure these topics are on their roadmaps?

Executive Communications in the Spotlight: Will the CEO Please Stand Up?

Your CEO is the face of your company, and that means going beyond being the head of your business strategy. Senior leaders must address these topics with authenticity and influence positive societal outcomes. Brand spokespeople, brand advocates, and paid influencers won’t cut it…will the CEO please stand up?

This is a clear and direct charge to the C-Suite—one that even Bill Ford could get behind. Your executive team needs to answer the call.

Synchronizing Your Internal and External Communications Strategies

Your executive leadership team needs to be a unified voice. It’s clear from the Edelman Trust Barometer, that the C-Suite needs to address the company via internal comms channels and publicly on external platforms. The CEO’s communication needs to be robust, sincere, and consistent across all channels—internal and external. 

Too often, external channels for stakeholders and shareholders are prioritized when major changes are announced at a company. Maybe the message misses the mark for employees. Or vice versa. Senior leadership shares promises to employees about positive, social change or improving the employee experience, but these promises never see the light of day. They feel inauthentic. 

But this is an opportunity. Most sources of information are seen as untrustworthy. CEOs now have a chance to earn and retain trust. Don’t take advantage of that trust or waste this opportunity to bring forward the ethical, purpose-driven comms out into the light and not just in the boardroom.

Start Communicating Today

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, if your CEO isn’t active today, we urge you to start helping them understand their evolving role. As a comms leader, you need to advocate that the CEO take action. Staying silent in these times will result in significant consequences for your company.

The benefits of improving CEO comms are significant. Think about the long-term value that can come from bringing your senior leadership forward. Deep brand recognition and market exposure help progress your company and power a winning culture that will attract and retain talent. Your vendors, business partners, employees’ families, and your next new hire are watching. And the stakes have never been higher.

Will your CEO rise to the challenge?

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