In new era, CEOs must engage to be heard
As we enter the new “engagement era,” the spotlight shines on corporate CEOs and their executive benches. Having had the opportunity to work with leadership teams throughout my career, it is obvious that a new generation of CEOs is now emerging. These CEOs are communicating in a world of social media, TV and online channels, as well as activist employees and a clear-asday recognition that everything internal is, in fact, external.
And in the midst of all this change, attention spans are ever diminishing. Research has shown that when we read online we skim, skip words, jump around, read in chunks, speedread, and multitask. A company and its CEO now has a far harder time making themselves heard.
With these shifts in mind, it is time CEOs and corporations learn how things have changed in this brave new world of building CEO reputations. With our research partner, KRC Research, Weber Shandwick surveyed more than 1,700 senior executives in 19 markets with a sample of 100 senior executives in China. Here are seven to China:
• CEO reputation matters, and matters a lot. According to the research, 48 percent of executives believe that a company’s reputation in China is attributed to its CEO’s reputation. Forty-five percent of a company’s market value is attributed to its CEO’s reputation, and about eight in 10 Chinese executives (79 percent) expect CEO reputation to matter even more to company reputation in the next few years.
• Public engagement is now imperative. Ninety-two percent of Chinese executives report that it is important for a CEO to have a visible public profile for his or her company to be highly
findings specific regarded.
• The humble, engaged CEO is the new “it” CEO. Global media coverage alone indicates that last year was a banner year for CEO humility. Building CEO reputation is no longer about celebrity, it is all about credibility.
• CEOs should take part in activities to stand out. The highest rated activity was speaking at events — 76 percent of Chinese executives identified this as one of the most important external visibility activity of CEOs. The second highestranking external activity, at 73 percent, was “sharing new insights and trends with the public”. Being a thought leader nowadays includes sharing insights and being active and engaged with the online community.
• Social CEOs come with benefits. CEOs are not as unsocial as they used to be, not by a long shot. Nearly nine in 10 Chinese executives in our study believe that a CEO has to have a presence on the Internet for his or her company to have a positive reputation. That doesn’t mean that a social network profile is mandatory. A CEO has many ways of engaging online, from videos on the corporate video channel to posting messages on the company website.
• CEOs: Proceed with caution when taking a public stand on policy or political issues. While the research found that CEOs and executives are encouraged to advocate on behalf of civic, citizenship and community issues (70 percent of executives believe it is important for CEOs to be active in local community and 68 percent believe it is important for CEOs to take positions on issues that affect society at large), there is less consensus around engaging in policy or political ones Less than half of executives in China (48 percent) say it is important for CEOs to taking public positions on policy or political issues.
• Reputation is genderblind in Asia-Pacific. We asked executives with male and female CEOs about the strength of their company and CEO reputations, and their CEO’s contribution to market value. We encountered no real differences. But on another question we asked — whether people would want to be CEO one day — male executives in APAC were significantly more likely to say yes than female executives.
In closing, keeping a very low executive profile is no longer an option. Although there are risks that come with public presence, it’s advantageous to take control, strategically and selectively engage, and stand up to stand out. The author is executive vicepresident of corporate and public affairs at Weber Shandwick China.