Guide your CEO’s communication rather than confine it

Sometimes the temptation of corporate comms teams is to confine CEOs in public statements.  That’s a mistake.

Take the recent publicity of Vodafone’s restructure.  In his first media interviews, new CEO Jason Paris gave a refreshingly honest and specific assessment of his priorities –  get Vodafone in good shape for an IPO by improving its commercial performance.

That clarity wasn’t backed up by Vodafone’s subsequent media statements when asked about job losses.  Vague assurances about the company moving to a “new organisational model” to deliver its strategy of “digital inspiration and innovation to every New Zealander” did not convince.

Paris got things back on track when he replied personally to readers’ questions posted on the Stuff website.  Readers appeared to like his clarity and honesty.

His style and comments demonstrated approachability, humility and confidence.  These are the traits people like, and expect, from successful organisations.  Most organisations also want to be thought of that way. 

It sounds straight forward for organisations to follow the lead of a CEO lead and benefit from their personality.  But it’s not all that simple to modern, risk-averse communications teams.

Formal statements, checked and triple-checked by legal, finance and HR people, are typically seen as the “safe” way to communicate.  But by the time everyone has agreed to the statement words, there’s usually nothing left worth saying.  Every utterance has been stripped of meaning, bent and twisted to within an inch of its life.

It simply won’t matter how well a CEO communicates if the company won’t allow individual personality to shine through in communications. 

One way around this is to communicate less using  written media statements laden with impenetrable corporate-speak.  Instead, ensure your company gains reputational upside by skipping the press-release-by-committee approach and help your CEO communicate verbally, and often, with journalists.