CEO Brand: Why Influence Is More Effective Than Fame

If you have binged-watched everything else since lockdown, try Avenue 5 on Sky Atlantic and see how not to lead a business. Megalomaniac Herman Judd, CEO of Judd Enterprises, is all about personal fame and self-aggrandisement, leaving his team to handle the crisis of his pleasure cruise spaceship as a satellite of sewage orbits around them. A metaphor for the dangers of the cult of leadership over progress (remind you of anyone?).  Luckily, the most influential leaders balance vision and ego with a sense of purpose. 

There are as many books and LinkedIn posts on effective leadership as there are leaders. But as the triple bottom line  – where companies commit to focus on social and environmental concerns just as they do on profits – becomes more table stakes than ‘nice to have’,  what a leader  stands for is a crucial reflection of a company’s purpose. Never more so than now, you might think, but it’s been true for a while.  Very few  boundaries exist between employees and customers and both audiences need brands to stand for something. The CEO is the personification of a company’s brand and their point of view will be noticed and responded to. It’s not personal – it’s a key aspect of the role. 

In the B2B space – particularly media, retail, tech and creative businesses that we work with at Propeller – more and more CEOs are recognising that by building their brand across media, their own content platforms and now online events, they can build influence. This is important because in order to do their jobs effectively,  CEOs need to connect with,  inspire and influence shareholders, customers, other leaders and – of course – their people. 

Manager or Star Player? 

You don’t have to be Sheryl Sandberg  to develop an effective personal brand. Different personalities will approach the role with their own singular perspective. For some, they see their role as team manager and consequently, their ‘star players’ are the ones who should be building a profile – this certainly works for Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director General. Others shy away from the limelight as they see personal brand as an extension of ego. In fact it’s the opposite. The CEO is a sub-brand of the business –  one of its most influential ambassadors –  so building that brand is as important as building profile for the products or services they sell.  Whether you are an introvert or extrovert leader, you can develop content that reflects your point of view. 

For leaders in service businesses, content, PR and managed outreach help  access the media and third party channels that can build your reputation – hugely helpful in connecting with the leaders of potential clients. And a  leader  with a strong and positive public profile can act as a magnet for talent, as well as customers and investors. It’s not about ‘I see you’ , more about ‘You make a lot of sense to me’

Talent seeks out role models for their own ambitions. CEO-led initiatives are a great way to demonstrate this. For example, in Omnicom’s Omniwomen initiative and WPP’s Stella network, CEOs play a key part in role modelling what leadership could look like to a new generation.  The stories leaders  tell based on their experience can be hugely motivational. 

And motivate you must. Investors want to see a strong direction and they want to see confidence. More than anything, they want their leaders  to help boost the value of their investment – and building a personal brand can create that halo of confidence that benefits value while the business builds.  

So what can you do? 

Start with your own channels – LinkedIn or your own company blog are great places to start –  then focus on authenticity and relevance. Or get even more creative and develop your own podcast or video series. Our Chairman Martin Loat’s Dog ‘n’ Bone podcast – and more recently his Escape Zooms –  are a nice way of demonstrating that we ‘walk the talk’ on creative content. 

Think about what is important to you and how this is relevant to the business you are leading and their audiences. If you start with what’s personally important this will build authenticity. Tell stories based on the considerable experience you will have amassed on the road to leadership – people relate more to real experiences than they do to corporate-speak. 

If you do these things right you will gain credibility, build influence and ride out even the bad times. ITV’s Carolyn McCall, AirBnB’s Brian Chesky, Burberry and Apple’s Angela Ahrendts have all created content, have all been on the ropes and they all kept going – because they are CEO brands. 

Rose Bentley Is Director of Clients and Strategy at Propeller. Rose supports ambitious leaders to develop their CEO brand and build profile and influence. If you are looking for help to develop your own personal brand position, get in touch or attend one of our upcoming work sessions to find out more.

On 25th June, Rose will be running a masterclass helping agency leaders build their CEO brand, helping you define and build your agency point.

To register for the session – click here.