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Is Your Management Team Visible?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Get involved:
  3. 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.

  4. Speak for your brand:
  5. 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?

  6. Tell the truth, with passion:
  7. 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.

10 comments on “Is Your Management Team Visible?

  1. bolaji ojo
    September 7, 2012

    Ford, The case you made about management visibility is compelling. Is there such a thing as too much visibility, though? When a company's top executive is suddenly all over town and in the media all the time, there's the possibility industry observers and investors would begin to wonder if the person had enough time to manage the enterprise itself.

    I can recall one example. When Carly Fiorina was CEO and chairman at Hewlett-Packard and the company was trying to buy Compaq, she was in the news so much trying to defend the deal that I couldn't help but think this contributed to the decline of HP. A top executive has to energize the investment community but must never forget to rally the internal troop too.

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 7, 2012

    Great post, Ford. I think there is also a time-management element involved. At one company I am familiar with, the CEO was out meeting customers; speaking to the media; and spending a lot of time with analysts. At some point, they had to offload the investor relations stuff to someone else. But you are absolutely right: a highly visible executive can do a lot of good for a company's image.

  3. Ford Kanzler
    September 7, 2012

    Bolaji & Barbara – There are some things only the CEO can do as a spokesperson. A WSJ interview would be an example. However, the entire management team and others with special expertise and experience can also participate as speakers, writers (bloggers) and interviewees. The PR team should create opportunities up and down the organization for a variety of players. This can be the essence of thought leadership and market engagement strategies.

    Yes. A company can overdo its PR efforts. This frankly happens rarely. The HP example was one where a single person was perhaps too much in the limelight. We don't know all the facts of that situation. I recall Apple also having overloaded the media with publicity to the point where editorial people were mentioning, “If you're from Apple, don't call on this.” But that's not been my typical experience or of most other PR pros. Getting management teams to wake up to the idea that being visible, outspoken and involved is usually a challenge. When they do dive in enthusiastically, greater marketing and communications success usually results. After all, as the old expression goes, “Nobody sells anything until somebody says something.” Corporate leadership needs to be in the thick of storytelling and marketing. Another idea is, “PR is too important to leave to only PR pros.”

  4. mario8a
    September 7, 2012

    I like # 4

    It's amazing how a CEO will twist the true to empower or motivate the company, “we are the leaders on the market, we have done better than our competitor in such region or being the tip of the spear in such technology or blue ocean market”

    It takes some skills to give bad news withoutpointing fingers but instead to show it as agreat area for growth and opportunity.

    anyway, great post, I enjoyed reading it.

    Mario Ochoa

  5. Ford Kanzler
    September 7, 2012

    Thank you (Gracias!)  Mario – Havng a management team that's connected with their market rather than locked up in an ivory tower is paramount to communications and marketing success. They need to be informed, public, vocal and active. PR can broker opportunities for management if the team is willing to engage. This and other relavant topics are discussed at length in my book – “Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business” – http://www.amazon.com/Connecting-Mind-Voice-Business-Marketing/dp/1457506645 – It compiles well over 30 years of tech marketing and business communications experience. 'Hope you'll enjoy and benefit from reading it.

  6. SP
    September 9, 2012

    Agreed. In the company where management executives are well spoken in forums and speakers in conferences I guess the company culture also improves. Steve was just a great inspiration. I think the more you are visible in the industry it helps to imporve contact and helps in increasing your brand value.

  7. bolaji ojo
    September 9, 2012

    Ford, I appreciate the extra comments. Just one quick comment on the quote: “PR is too important to leave to only PR pros.” I can tell you that PR pros (sorry) tend to mess up their own PR work for clients. When I do interviews I hate to have PR folks around because they edit verbal comments made by their clients and make the client look incompetent.

    The impression typically given is that the executive needs handholding. If the PR pros want to create the best impression, they should prepare the executive way before and let them do the talking. Interjecting comments or correcting comments by the executives is really bad but PR pros don't seem to realize this.

    The best PR pros do their thing way before trotting out the executives. When the executive hosts an interview without needing a handler, the rating is higher.

  8. Ford Kanzler
    September 11, 2012

    Bolaji – From the PR pro's side of the desk, there are plenty of spokespersons who need prep AND someone to assure the interview goes approximately where its supposed to, not down a rathole or worse. Unfortunately there are tech business leaders in high visiblity roles that don't take guidance well or at all, are unwiling to prepare and who are apt to go off the deep end (particularly hazardous with public companies) and who clearly need monitoring. Some companies even requre a third person in the room for legal or SEC reasons.

    I certainly agree that a PR person shouldn't be actively injecting responses. They can help by prompting the interviewee or even the reporter on topics that need discussing, as in, “Remember you wanted to mention such-and-such.”I've seen lots of interviews going off on a tangent that I brought back on topic. Nobody has ever squawked about that.

    As a journalist you certainly have the right to ask any questions you desire but the interviewee isn't required to respond, as I'm sure you've noticed :). Execs often have to be reminded of that and also kept in safe and knowledgeable territory. I strongly suggest PR pros have a iimited, facilitative role. Editing intereviewee's comments on-the-fly is likely a bad idea for several reasons. However, spokespersons should not make a habit of “going commado” with media interviews. If you'd worked in PR you'd agree. I'm certain you've seen your share of poorly prepared spokespersons. Some tech leaders need all the help they can get before and during and interview. Experienced PR pros know how to help from both the speakers' and journalists' perspectives. Hopefully, interviewing practice breeds speaker effectiveness, but not always.

    An added value PR pros can play, is taking notes about promises to provide requested info or next steps (like a follow-up call to the interviewee), noting prospective story topics, and being the timekeeper, since most often both participants' time is limited. Can't do that if you're not in the room or on the conference call and actively listening.

  9. Mr. Roques
    September 12, 2012

    I completelyy agree with you in that if you're not talking about your company, some else is – or in the worst case, no one is. If they have the opportunity to make noise about the new things the company is doing, or the old things it continues to do well, why wouldn't they?

  10. Ford Kanzler
    September 12, 2012

    Several reasons that I can immediately think of:

    – Fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing the answers to any possible question

    – Thinking they have to be like Steve Jobs or TJ Rogers to be a spokesperson

    – Fear of being misquoted and of “the media” who they may see as the enemy

    – Belief that the product is so wonderful, customers will beat a path to their web site (and therefore)

    – Doesn't see involvement in PR as a valuable use of their time

    – No one around to remind them that corportate spokespersonship is a management responsibility or to show them opportunities for action

    – Introverted personality that fears being in the spotlight (But then how did they get into upper management in the first place?)

    – Belief that putting out news releases on a regular basis (like once a week) constitutes effective PR

    – Adherance to an ancient command & control management style that wants everything totally buttoned down, along with…

    – Fearing exposure of misdeeds or incompetancy

    There are undoubtedly others.

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