A CEO is more than just the leader and ultimate decision maker in a company. The most effective ones bridge the gap and also become the voice of the organization, while empowering their teams, both in-house and external vendors, to enhance their visibility and shape their brand.
Here are five signs that you are on the right track, at least from the perspective of PR and digital agencies:
#1 You invest in the relationship with your agency partner.
You invest your time, and your attention to the agency leaders. You are inclusionary. You invite them to other strategy meetings, and let them sit in on quarterly all-hands meetings.
As part of this investment, expect to allocate the equivalent of about a half day of your time in the first 90 days of a new PR agency relationship. Expect to spend an hour or so of your time each quarter with them, to provide direction on company vision and expectations for the future that should impact their PR plans.
Ideally, in addition, you will want to have a regular 1:1 with the senior most person on your account. This should be monthly or quarterly. Plan to review progress with your business, and update the agency leader on any significant changes to strategy or direction.
Be honest and upfront if sales were missed, or if a certain group isn’t functioning as well as you’d hoped. The more transparency and insight into your overall business you can share, the better prepared and knowledgeable the agency can be in making smart business decisions about the aspects of the work they own for you. If your agency doesn’t know that your sales team missed their quarter and that change is afoot on leadership for that team, they won’t be able to make sound business judgments related to their own work. The more they know, the more effective they can be, and the more they can represent you to the public and in the press.
#2 You think big, and you aren’t afraid to go big.
While it’s never good to mislead your agency partner that you can deliver on a proof of concept if that isn't a reality, it does help if you can paint a broader picture for your agency on your vision and company goals, as well as your big ideas for the overall industry you play in.
The best CEOs for agency partners are ones who wants to go big, but who also listen to you on how to do it. Sometimes that advice comes from your internal team, but more often than not, it can come from your agency leaders. Let them explain to you what going big looks like, and support them in their efforts to hit home runs for you. If they want to start preparing a package for a cover story in one of your top tier trades, let them go for it. But, know that you and your team will need to do interviews, and have behind-the-scenes planning meetings to ensure messages are ready and your story is complete. Your position might require you to grease the skids in terms of recruiting third parties for interviews, with folks from your top customers, analysts and partners.
A PR and marketing-minded CEO will also bake PR and social media into the performance of their own leadership teams. Make sure you have your marketing team, product team and CTO office on the hook to conduct a certain number of press interactions, write a certain number of bylines, and maintain a current and active social profile and level of activity. If you aren’t paying attention to whether they are doing so in a formal way tied to their total employment rewards, why are they ever going to be motivated to support it? The fact is, they won’t make time unless you’ve made it clear that it impacts your opinion of them the same way their ability to meet other KPIs does.
#3 You have an opinion and a perspective about your industry, and you want to lead that dialogue.
Many executives say they want to be quoted in industry and trend articles, but they can’t visualize themselves doing so. They often don’t have a unique opinion of the challenges that are facing their industry. They are limited to talking only about what products they have and sell today, and what those products can do for customers. While understanding your value prop around products is important, and a key lever to pull with media, it isn’t thought leadership, and it won’t ever result in higher tier interviews, where you land quotes on mainstream topics related to cloud, IoT, big data, security, virtual reality, among others. To play ball at that level, you’ve got to form a unique opinion, and it helps if it’s a contrarian view to what’s already played out in the press. Your agency partner can add tremendous value in terms of how to break through the noise with your point of view, but they can’t form the thoughts for you. You have to do that part for yourself.
#4. You don’t overlook the collective intellectual capital of your team, and you know how to access it and use it in the proper way.
Some CEOs are operational leaders, while others came up the ranks as sales leaders. Still others advance from the CTO or CMO level. No matter the pathway you took to get to where you are, you are in that seat now. But the reality is that you might not have all of the skills to form that unique point of view in your industry. If, for example, you are more of an operational and sales leader but you run an enterprise cloud software company, you might need to ensure that your vision for your industry be more unique in order to punch through all the other executives talking about cloud. Maybe that includes an angle around the skills gap emerging data infrastructure like converged infrastructure, or perhaps it’s around a lack of standards for the cloud for data security. If you need more help, tap into your CTO’s R&D office to get their thoughts on where the technology is headed, and use what you can from their perspective to feed your overall corporate story. While your lieutenants might not be in the best position to be the external face for the company, on these issues, their collective brain trust should be tapped, in order to flesh out a strong narrative for you, the CEO, to carry to the streets.
#5. You always ask for feedback from the agency.
Always ask the agency for feedback after you’ve given a media interview, completed a speaking slot or drafted a blog post. They could be shy to offer constructive input, but if you ask them, you are giving them permission to tell you what they really think. And they are your eyes and ears to important third parties like customers, partners, press, analysts and other influencers. They will see things you don’t about your pitch, content or speech, and be able to guide you towards small – and sometimes large improvements that will really make a difference over time.
The most effective leaders have forward-thinking mindsets and are actively engaged in how to use their people and resources to achieve their business goals. Since CEOs have the ability to set the tone for the rest of the organization, those who understand their roles as unifiers and facilitators are well-positioned for success.