Does A Company’s Reputation Rest On The Shoulders Of The CEO?

Karen Tibor Leland
Karen Tibor Leland

When you think Facebook, you think Mark Zuckerberg.

When you think Amazon.com, you think Jeff Bezos.

These and other examples of celebrity corporate leaders show that a CEO’s personal brand can work in concert with the corporation’s brand, helping elevate both in the public’s eye.

“Like it or not, today’s CEO has been pre-cast in the role of their company’s chief brand ambassador,” says Karen Tibor Leland, a branding expert and author of “The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand” (www.karenleland.com). “All CEOs have the daily opportunity and obligation to build their personal brand in service of their own and their corporation’s reputation.”

Much of the public makes a direct connection between a corporation and its CEO. A study a few years ago by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research showed that 49 percent of a company’s reputation is attributed to the CEO’s reputation. 

That’s why it’s important for CEOs to take an active role in managing their reputations, Leland says. Ways for them to do that include:

• Claim your name. In the digital era, CEOs need to stake a claim to their names in similar fashion to the way miners staked their territory in the gold-rush days. One step in doing this is to register your name for a website, even if you have no immediate plans to create a personal-brand website, Leland says. That way you are protected from someone else hijacking your name and perhaps using it to damage your reputation.

• Stay on top of search engines. It might seem like an act of vanity to type your own name into Google or another search engine, but it can be revealing to see what pops up. CEOs might find unfair comments, negative news articles or other less-than-flattering online chatter about them. They can’t remove that content, but they can take steps to move those items off the first few pages of the search results. For example, they can write blog posts and articles that use the same keywords as the negative content to drive those items off the first page.

• Be a social CEO. A key way CEOs can manage their reputation is to participate in social media. Many CEOs avoid social media, but that’s not wise, Leland says. Studies show that social media participation can make a significant difference in promoting a company’s brand. For example, BRANDfog’s 2014 “The Global Social CEO Survey” revealed that 71 percent of U.S. respondents viewed companies as more trustworthy if their top executives communicate about their core mission, brand values and purpose on social media.

Of course, online isn’t the only place for CEOs to boost their personal brands.

“Building your brand also involves old-fashioned, face-to-face networking,” Leland says. “Go to a conference, take someone to lunch, attend a business workshop. This part of personal branding might seem a little more comfortable because it’s the type of branding you’ve probably practiced your entire career.”

Karen Tiber Leland is a branding expert and author of “The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand” (www.karenleland.com). She is also president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps companies, CEO’s, executives and entrepreneurs build stronger personal, team and business brands. Her clients have included Apple Computer, LinkedIn, Twitter, AT&T, Avis Car Rental and Bank of America, among many others. She is a regular guest of the media and has been interviewed by Fortune, Fast Company, CNN, MSNBC, and Oprah, among others.  Karen has spoken for Stanford, Harvard, The American Management Association, Young President’s Organization and others.

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