Dear CEO, an authentic voice makes you reach your stakeholders
By Natasja Beyleveld, Managing Director of NaMedia.
I recently had a discussion with one of my friends in industry, regarding how the public image, or lack thereof, of the Executives (especially CEOs) impacts on a company’s reputation. If we are perceived for the way we are led, public leadership becomes the tonality of your public image.
Developing a good share of voice for your company can either be CEO-dependent (for example the GIPF), or you could only use your CEO as ‘crisis control’, and rely on a diversified spokesperson model for your brand(s). Whichever way, if you are appointed as an executive, then in today’s world, you are by default required to become a confident public speaker.
The only way to maintain this confidence and to have a voice with impact is to ensure that you are relevant to your stakeholders, and that you have built relationships that support your vision.
Ultimately, each stakeholder has the ability to influence your public reputation, whether we like it or not. Traditional and digital media, word of mouth (peer influence) and personal experiences are heard louder than generic public relation efforts. The latter was something that could sustain a business in the past, but no more.
We were drawn to ‘key message repetition’ in the past, but now it has become a constant adaptation based on trend-reads and customer preference. It’s like having sold school uniforms in the past, just changing the size of the message, whereas now we have a more refined audience requiring bespoke or tailored messages, which are required to be fit for comfort and purpose.
How has this impacted the way we not only present our business models but also our products to our clients?
It has become a cross-shopping exercise where one category is not sufficient for comparison, but the client wants to shop from budget, premium, gold and platinum all at the same time. They want a package that speaks to their budget – and it’s eating from a pap-to-prawns buffet. This asks for careful listening, planning, and communications.
When leaders start conversing with stakeholders and communicate through strategic partnerships or mutually beneficial causes (corporate to community, or politics to community) and we believe them; then the support and momentum develop to a good speed. If the CEOs or Executives do not believe the message or the cause they are communicating, the disconnect between audience and speaker quickly escalates into open mistrust. This trust is not regained easily.
Our job is: be a good human. Communicate in congruence to your values and keep it simple. Ask yourself: do others understand your message and purpose – and can they resonate with your CEO and leadership? Find what it is that really works in the voice and the voice will work for the stakeholder because it delivers a message which is authentic and talks shop.
Sometimes it takes modelling some person-appropriate-spokesperson models (there is no shame in learning from experts). In the end, it remains crucial that you find your true self clearly and confidently in the public voice you are coached for, and check whether your ethos is in congruence with your shop talk. Then we are talking. And your listeners will notice.