and... that's a wrap on summer! It has been an interesting quarter for Elon Musk, 'Papa John' (not to mention the always rip-worthy POTUS) and a handful of other high profile Execs who have found themselves stirring up some debates about the CEOs role in representing their brands publicly. It's also clear that - thanks to the power of the internet - controversial topics that would normally fall under stakeholder relations, have shifted into PUBLIC scrutiny, which can speed up the rate of Word of Mouth and sharply sway public opinion.
These examples point to how the CEOs have an increasing power of influence over shareholder relations, sales and overall brand reputation.
I believe now more than ever, people are looking to CEOs as a measure of quality that stack their character and behaviours against that of the brand. Especially for the largest group of consumers, between the ages of 20-35 who attach values to their purchase decisions. When those values and opinions reflect those of the brand, it works. When they don't - it can become damaging.
WHEN CONTROVERSY WORKS
It's not to say that all CEOs or leadership executives must follow their company's brand bible as a moral compass in and out of the office. For all intents and purposes, that might be well, quite boring - and definitely not newsworthy. Which is why we only hear the 'controversial stuff' in the news.
In fact, there are many CEOs whose passion, colourful personalities and beliefs are what have gotten the company to where it is in the first place. When used strategically, a CEOs actions can get our attention, regain people's focus, demonstrate sincerity and display confidence.
This method require a little practice there is a way to use your powers of influence and controversy for good instead of off-putting.
WHEN IT DOESN'T WORK
On the flip side, behaviour that begins to impact the brand, sales or other negative consumer behaviours could become a liability. A REAL one. And you won't have a quarter to turn the market around, the reaction time has to be a lot quicker.
See, there is a tipping point where the CEO's position and behaviour either becomes a liability or asset. Influence is a power best wielded with guidance. For example, when the behaviours or opinions of the Chief Executive Officer are in conflict with the characteristics of the Brand.
Various tools could be employed to evaluate this tipping point - namely reputation management tools or monitoring techniques. But if it's a big enough stink, you won't need stats to tell you that people are talking!
Quick Tips to getting out of hot water:
- If you made a glaring mistake, apologize. Quickly.
- When appropriate, disassociate the defamatory actions or opinions from those of the brand and its employees/people.
- Humanize yourself! Be humble, and be authentic.
- If the consumers don't abandon the company, the stakeholders will stand by you - so enlist their support.
My best advice to controversial CEOs: Whatever you say publicly, does it have the best interest of the company (and its employees) at the heart of it? Set aside your PRIDE and know when to pull back your personal views - it's a lesson we could all learn at times.