Calling On The Top Gun
We’ve been discussing the use of a corporate employee as the company spokesperson for marketing, advertising and corporate communications. These final installments are about using the boss, the capo di tutti capi, the TOP GUN.
It’s often said by business gurus that a company President’s or CEO’s most important job is being the public face of the company—acting unofficially as the top sales person and officially as the corporate cheerleader.
When Detroit’s ‘big three’ automakers had serious money problems and were to testify before a congressional hearing in 2009 they didn’t send anybody less than the CEOs. This is the same for marketing, advertising and corporate communications. If the message is coming directly from the person/people at the top, it will be received as important and be taken seriously. However, that doesn’t automatically make them your best spokesperson for all situations.
For instance. if your CEO has an annoying speech impediment, no matter how brilliant a business giant they are, they may not be the best spokesperson. Any handicap can be dealt with and mitigated in the mind of the public but it takes a concerted effort to get the viewer intimately involved with a personality enough to overlook otherwise negative traits. Think of Donald Trump and his ridiculous comb-over. After years of experiencing his bombast and bullying business bravado daily in the media, his stupid hair seems almost irrelevant! Interestingly enough, physical handicaps, such as being in a wheelchair, can actually be sympathetic if used properly.
If you’re worried about the speaking ability or presence of the top guy (or gal), limit their use. Their authoritative position can be used to approve or ratify the statements of others with just an important phrase or two.
I once did a series of commercials for a retail chain that revolved around the founder and president assuring viewers he personally guaranteed they would be satisfied. Good idea from the Ad agency and pretty standard stuff when the name of the company and the owner are the same! But the owner was “too busy”—probably because he knew he was absolutely horrible on-camera. The agency’s solution was to find an actor that was a good look-alike and put a beard on him to match the client. All the actor had to say was, “I guarantee it!” While I would never recommend it for anyone else, it worked for them. It also gave that actor a near-lifetime hook into their ad budget.
A variation of this was a series of TV spots we created for a family-owned manufacturer that embossed their name on every product. Their brand was in fact the family name. So at the end of the spots, after an announcer told us the name was synonymous with only the highest quality, the CEO appeared on camera and said, “You’ve got my word on it!”
Keep in mind that the boss does not really need to be the spokesman just because their name is on the company. Simply use their well-staged image without them addressing the audience. This is done all the time, especially in the fashion world. Think of how Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger and others appear and never speak.
Even though the big boss as spokesperson brings instant power and authority due to their title, it’s important they be presented with as many desirable qualities as possible. They don’t need to wage a multi-year media campaign to establish their personality like Donald Trump. For instance if enough people tell you someone is kind (or tough, smart, honest, etc,) you’ll most likely believe it without seeing firsthand evidence.
Over the years I’ve done a number of corporate events and meetings—producing everything from the staging to video coverage. One large international company engaged us to produce a live event for 1200 local employees at HQ and to webcast it to their more than two dozen international offices worldwide. The purpose was to present the brand-new CEO and unify a company which had grown quickly with a number of recent acquisitions. For the CEO it was an opportunity to address the troops in person and establish his leadership.
Leadership presupposes there will be followers. It’s always a good idea to make sure the CEO’s public image is positive. In this case we needed to position the boss with an internal audience as a visionary worth following, even though he was an unknown. Of course, as an unknown he was a blank slate to write on. This was an opportunity to use the existing leaders to define the new CEO.
So, besides plenty of hoopla and corporate details for the event, we produced a video to play as an introduction to the new CEO’s speech. It featured all the regional vice-presidents from around the world (all well known, trusted leaders of their respective divisions) expounding on advantages of the new unity and teamwork as well as expressing respect for the new CEO. It was the perfect fertilizer for the seeds of progress the CEO wanted to sow—and a perfect set-up to give a previously unknown executive instant credibility.
Next time: Your Spokesperson Does Not Need To Be perfect.
--John W. Coleman www.TwinOaks.tv