You've seen them coming and going, and perhaps occasionally conferred with them, but are they out in the world talking for your company and industry or just signing off on news release quotes? This commentary is about executive spokespersonship (a gender-neutral term).
How often is the CEO, or any of your top executives, booked as a speaker at an important industry conference or connecting with market research analysts who shape industry opinion? If they're not, they're missing lots of face-to-face (F2F) marketing opportunities. Face-to-face is still one of the most powerful ways of communicating.
After working with dozens of tech outfits during the last few decades, I'm well aware there are many companies led by introverted engineering pros, many of whom would rather eat worms than speak in public. But they're in the driver's seat, and they don't get to hide in the corner office. Speaking for your brand is part of the big job you've assumed as CEO. Learn it, get good at it, and grab opportunities.
Being as polished as Steve Jobs was is not required. What is required, however, is having something to say and consistently taking time to engage -- whether at a trade show, via blogging, or one-on-one with your industry's influencers. Having the company's senior executive team, as well as directors and other experts, speaking in a concerted way for and about the brand is just plain good business. It's a respected and long-established part of basic public relations practice. Not doing it has several downsides. Here are some best-practices tips:
- Speak for yourself: If you don't speak for your company, someone else, likely someone with very different perspectives, will. Repositioning your competition is a major indoor sport for executive speakers. You're mistaken if you don't think your competitors are not doing that to you now. Speak for yourself. Get your story out there for everyone to hear.
- Get involved: Analysts and editors in the tech sector, although fewer than in the past, still powerfully shape industry opinion. If you don't know them and they don't know you and what your company is about, your brand is going to get the short end. Create and maintain an open relationship with key opinion leaders in your market. Public relations remains an important management function. Get involved.
- Speak for your brand: Does your company claim some kind of leadership? If so, actually being a leader demands executives who speak for their brands and often for their entire industry segment. The result is such companies receive more than their fair share of voice. As one of my PR mentors, Fred Hoar, used to advise: "Share-of-voice precedes share-of-mind, which precedes share-of-market." Is there any better reason for management team members to speak for their company?
- Tell the truth, with passion: Company credibility is earned and not bought. One excellent way of earning credibility is when management team members clearly and regularly speak out truthfully and even passionately about important issues and trends. When your management team includes industry thought leaders, value accrues to the brand. Customers like doing business with smart, open, honest, and demonstrably leading brands. Act like the leader you either already are or intend to become.
Books have been written on thought leadership. Mine addresses the topic as well. Company culture has to support employee speaking at various levels. Perhaps your engineers are already speaking at technical forums or writing for publications. If so, that's great! This practice isn't limited to only technical team members. Long term, your management's strategic investment in awareness and credibility will earn the company a well-recognized place in its market. Well-differentiated brands are ones that customers are far more likely to choose.