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The Face Behind the Name: CEO As Corporate Image

IT'S TOUGH TO BUILD A CORPORATE REPUTATION OF INTEGRITY, CREDIBILITY AND QUALITY IN AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE THE ENRON CODE OF ETHICS MANUAL IS SELLING ON EBAY FOR $31.

How do you create a corporate image to accurately represent your business? Define your company's greatest attributes, then share the good news. Top executives can be your best bet in raising your corporate profile.

Consider Nike. The Body Shop. Microsoft. Enron. Assess your own immediate impressions regarding the reputation of each. Market leader? Ethical practitioner? Innovator? Now assess your own company's impact-is it well-crafted and solid, or somewhat undefined. Does it attract interest; inspire talent to apply for jobs, drive customers to seek out your sales team?

Use communication outreach to harness and build the strength of your corporate credibility and inherent business value. What you're promoting is your company's worth, and key executives may be your organization's (untapped?) sweet spot.

CAN YOUR EXECS WIN THEIR TRUST?

The premise is simple: leaders define their companies – and their markets – often as much as their companies' products and services.

Executive visibility programs reaffirm the company's reputation and underscore the quality of its products and services, building trust and advocacy among stakeholders vital to their success. Critically, visibility is a key determinant of corporate value, with oft-quoted executives a powerful tool in influencing business outcomes.

Select strategic tactics in which exposure and messages are controlled amplify the corporate message while highlighting one (or more) of the company's greatest assets – its leaders.

To wit, look at the CTO of a respected Silicon Valley Internet security company, Bruce Schneier. Bruce has perfected the executive visibility campaign, and is a widely-known industry expert and corporate leader.

Regularly sought for opinions on security issues including terrorism, identity theft or the hacking of Paris Hilton's cell phone, Bruce is routinely quoted in media from Newsweek to InfoWorld to Investor's Business Daily to the New York Times.

Bruce participates in select, strategic speaking events, distributes a monthly newsletter, authors opinion pieces for publication and consistently iterates key corporate messages while speaking as a security authority. It certainly doesn't hurt that during his "spare" time Bruce has also become a renowned author.

Described by The Economist as a "security guru," Bruce has drawn worldwide attention to his own accomplishments and those of his company, helping transform the business into the leading protector of networked information globally.

ON THE CORPORATE STAGE

Define the executive's attributes as a spokesperson under varied communication themes. These themes will inform story angles, speaking opportunities and other outreach conducted as part of the program.

FOR EXAMPLE: LEADERSHIP – Positioning spokespeople as industry leaders underscores their authority. Leadership stories could center on the corporate business model, growth patterns, restructuring with proven results.

DIFFERENTIATION – Highlighting how the spokesperson brings distinctive talents, insights, creativity to his/her position showcases that person's innate abilities. This could mean attention to certain components of personality, or specific non-business activities in which the person is involved.

EXPERTISE – Enhancing the spokesperson's credibility as an expert in a particular field not only benefits his own reputation, but the images of his company and colleagues under the corporate shell, as well.

Tactics used in an executive visibility program may mirror those used in the broader corporate program. The difference is that implementation in the executive program showcases the strength of the individual, and supports the notion that the corporation is elite enough to attract this caliber talent.

Activities may range across:
- Media relations
- Speaking engagements
- Board appointments
- Community outreach efforts
- Individual accomplishment awards
- Event/Conference sponsorships

WHAT IS YOUR OWN COMPANY SAYING?

If the extent of your corporate communication program consists of institutional announcements regarding senior hires and new customers, you're missing an opportunity. This kind of outreach may maintain low-level market presence, but certainly doesn't incite activity from investors, or position your company for a next incarnation.

Evaluate what your company intends to accomplish and how will it participate within its industry. Gauge its leadership potency and its distinctions from competitors. Then tell the story.

By Alison Diboll