C-suite leaders are balancing multiple priorities as they guide their companies through the uncertainties and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. From implementing internal crisis strategies and managing risk, to communicating with stakeholders and determining the future direction of the business, there’s a great deal on the c-suite plate.
But what about their personal brand? Many are understandably wary of using this time to elevate their own individual profile, after all no one wants to be seen to be taking advantage of a global crisis for personal gain. Yet business leaders must take charge of how they themselves are seen by the outside world as this can directly and dramatically impact the reputation and long-term success of the companies they represent.
Business fortunes will be decided by the actions taken during this time, as illustrated by a special Edelman report exploring brand trust and coronavirus. When the survey was published back in March, 37% of global respondents had already switched to a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way it responded to outbreak, while 33% had convinced others to stop using a brand that was not acting appropriately. Almost two thirds said a brand’s response to the crisis would have a huge impact on their future purchasing decisions. These perceptions will be just as powerful in the B2B world as they are in B2C.
The perception of how a business or brand responds to the pandemic is inextricably linked with its leaders, how they act and what they say. There’s no need to name CEOs that have behaved badly during the outbreak – most readers will already be aware of these. Instead let’s look at how business leaders can build a positive profile, projecting an image of themselves that will drive business success and keep their companies visible for the right reasons.
Maintain virtual visibility
Most importantly, c-suite leaders should not disappear. Now more than ever is the time to show up and use all available resources to demonstrate how the business is making a difference. Maintaining visibility may be complicated by the lack of physical events and the need to remain in one location, but there are still many ways for business leaders to be seen. Starting with the basics, c-suite leaders can publish a personal response to the situation – accompanied by a current headshot – on their company website and social channels such as LinkedIn. Alternatively, they can record a video statement.
Taking profile building up a level, business leaders can have interviews or bylined articles published in relevant publications or take part in webinars, panel discussions and podcasts, where they can address the challenges currently facing the business world and discuss how they are addressing these. As an example, at the beginning of lockdown IAB UK revised its podcast format and launched the new series by interviewing CEO Jon Mew, who explained how IAB members would be supported during this period. Jon is also using video interviews to speak out about key industry issues, such as the impact on publishers of keyword blocking around coronavirus news, taking a strong thought leadership position.
It is well known that seeing their CEO’s face and hearing their voice can be reassuring for employees during a time of crisis, and the same is true of customers. When a c-suite leader is the visible face of their business and is acting to move their industry in a positive direction at this challenging time, it gives customers confidence that the business will be in a strong position during the recovery phase.
Spotlight service over selling
Business leaders inevitably want to share stories that maintain market confidence and build firm foundations for future success, but they must take care when crafting their messaging. They should avoid the hard sell, and only talk about products in a contextually relevant way that illustrates an awareness of the impact the pandemic is having on customers or the wider industry. Instead of aggressively pushing products, c-suite leaders should focus their efforts on finding appropriate and meaningful solutions to the problems their customers and partners are facing in the wake of the pandemic.
Business messaging is often aimed at the upper ‘growth’ levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – such as self-actualisation – tapping into higher aspirations and purpose. But at this time leaders need to adapt messaging to connect with business customers at the lower, more basic levels that relate to survival, security and trust. This approach may not maximise profits in the short term, but it will build stronger relationships for the recovery bounce.
Support the business community
There is strength in collaboration and by joining forces to support the wider business community, customers or suppliers, business leaders can achieve far more than by working alone. HP is making a variety of printing resources available to help fight COVID-19 and Enrique Lores, the company’s President & CEO, is inspired by the way companies across all industries are stepping up to show leadership during this time. He believes the crisis “requires us to be the best versions of ourselves, summon reserves of hope and strength we may have never known we possessed, and work to overcome this together.” He invites business leaders across all industries to answer the question, “what role can my company play in overcoming today’s obstacles and creating tomorrow’s opportunities?”
The spirit of co-operation starts at the top, with tech giants Google and Apple working on a rare collaboration to enable contact tracing technology. There are numerous other examples of businesses working together and supporting each other, from Channel 4 offering free ad creation services for brands encountering issues with production during lockdown, to Microsoft boosting virtual training and support in response to a surge in remote working. By identifying a genuine role their business can play in supporting others at this challenging time – and actively encouraging this type of activity – the c-suite can position themselves and their companies as empathetic leaders that will steer their industries towards a brighter future.
It’s clear c-suite leaders should make raising their personal profile a priority during the pandemic as the resulting halo effect will be incredibly beneficial for the companies they represent. By remaining visible, by focussing on service over selling and by looking for ways to authentically support the business community, leaders can build a powerful personal brand that will help their companies thrive as the recovery begins.
About the Author
Victoria Usher is Founder and CEO of GingerMay, a multi-award winning strategic marketing and PR consultancy with offices in London, New York and Berlin. A former data analyst for Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft and FTSE 500 companies, Victoria founded GingerMay in 2010 to offer businesses a data-driven communications partner.