Corporate Reputation vs Executive Brand: What to do when the CEO talks too much online
“How do I handle this: My CEO talks too much online, and it is beginning to affect the organisation’s reputation.”
Over the past decade of consulting for business executives and organisations, one key recommendation I give is that there must be compulsory PR and Communications training for all staff. Many times, organisations take it for granted that employees automatically know what to say, when to say it and on what platforms to do so. But what happens when it is the CEO who is flouting the rules and HR policies?
How does one manage a situation where the CEO’s activities online are bringing negative attention and causing reputational damage to the organisation? What do you do when your boss essentially ‘does not know how to talk?’
First, let’s address something that is prevalent towards the end of each year: reputational crises.
For reasons not very far from over-exuberance, hubris, pride and just plain excitement (or sadness) about how the year has played out – people say a lot of things they may not have been free to say at any other period within the year. As we near the end of Q4 each year, things like “I don’t want to take this into the new year, so let me speak my mind…” “We are in a good place financially so a little ‘unpopular opinion’ will not hurt us too much…” become more prevalent online.
What that leads to is crisis for an organisation or an executive who may be ill-prepared to articulate a response to an allegation or outright wrong-doing.
For Public Relations and Communications professionals who now become responsible for communicating with stakeholders, here are my recommendations:
1. Present a case to the Management/Board.
2. Hopefully, your organisation’s management is not made up of the CEO only; and there is a Board that the CEO reports to. Where other senior executives are available, prepare a data-backed, case study-led argument to show the potential impact of unguided and unguarded executive communication on the organisation. You are not accusing, or blaming; instead, you are presenting an objective argument on how to PREVENT a reputational crisis.
2. Ramp up corporate communications on owned channels.
3. This is not the time for your organisation’s corporate handles online or email newsletter to be vacuously silent.
Messaging should focus on inspiring trust and demonstrating the values of the organisation. Words should be clear, simple and articulate. Speak up but do not overwhelm your audience.
3. Guided executive communication for the 2iC.
4. Who is the most senior executive after the CEO? They need to be more active, ideally on the same platform where the CEO is often found. The task here is simple: 2iC comms should focus on the WORK of the organisation. Talk about the people, the processes, the impact, the results. Let the relevant public know that the organisation exists outside the shadow of the CEO.
This point is why executive branding is important. Organisations must ensure that all management team members have visible public executive brands that can boost the corporate reputation of an organisation. In any case, human resource directors must realise that the social media pages of key executives in the organisation are company assets, and must be treated as such.
4. Engage a consultant.
5. Sometimes, familiarity with internal staff means that executives sometimes discountenance their recommendations. Other times, it could be that a particular situation requires a more experienced hand than what is currently available in the organisation. Bring in a trusted, experienced Communications expert who has a verifiable track record.
Whether we are focusing on managing a self-generated crisis occasioned by the hasty fingers of an overzealous staff, or the self-confessed admission of a CEO, at the end of the day, it is a glaring organisational failure that could have been avoided. May I recommend that you do an immediate internal review of your organisation’s communications policy? Do you have a ‘Use of Social Media’ clause that is binding on all staff, including executives? Do you have an appointed spokesperson who is authorised to speak to the media? You should definitely include information that all staff who are publicly affiliated with the organisation on their social media pages are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is representative of the values of the organisation.
As Nigeria approaches a crucial election year, many executives and trusted public commentators will begin to unravel as they choose sides. The blowback may affect their organisations. Crisis is practically inevitable; the businesses and established executive brands that will survive the coming thunderstorm are those who have the foresight to surround themselves with people who can dig them out of any self-inflicted, indirect or third party issues that may adversely affect business survival.T
Tolulope Olorundero is a Public Relations Practitioners, Founder #NGWomeninPR