What do communicators need to keep in mind when building an executive visibility strategy? Janine Savarese, CEO of NextTech Communications, shares the importance of building initiatives around topics that leaders are passionate about to avoid purpose washing. Janine also breaks down how to navigate visibility strategies for a CEO of a household brand versus a start-up.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: JANINE SAVARESE
DOUG: We’re talking about the importance of executive leadership, and let’s start, how is it differentiated through different types of leaders?
JANINE: That’s an important point because for executive visibility and thought leadership platforms you want to ensure that it makes sense with your brand, and is aligned with your brand, and it also needs to make sense for the spokesperson that you’re putting forward. So, for example, if you’re working with one of the top banks in the country, and you’re building a thought leadership platform for the CEO, and part of that platform is the CEO addressing the importance of climate change solutions and initiatives, and, at the end of the day, you don’t have any of those in place, then you’ve put yourself in a very difficult situation. They often call that purpose washing, but it is critical that you identify not only the areas of expertise that your spokesperson can talk to, but that it makes sense, and you’re also able to substantiate it and back it up.
DOUG: Yeah. And I guess there are different types of leaders. Like the person at the bank might not be well known as a name, but they’re known because they’re working with such a well-known institution. Then you’ve got other sort of celebrity CEOs, then others who aspire to be there. Can you break down some of the key differences in how you navigate leadership and visibility in those cases?
JANINE: So, in those cases, for the CEO that’s representing a brand that’s a household name, it’s easier to get those opportunities through earned media initiatives if you’re pitching interviews or if you’re trying to place an op-ed on a specific topic. And at that point you also need to be really careful about where does it make the most sense to have that CEO, and what is he speaking to versus a startup who may not have the credibility to get in front of some of the media outlets that you’re trying to reach. And in that case you might work with an influencer to build the thought leadership platform for that company, because it not only increases the chances of you landing high profile interviews or media coverage, but it adds credibility and starts to build that brand up in whatever industry you’re in.
DOUG: Yeah, one of the trends that we’ve seen is the importance of having spokespeople from within organizations speaking externally, but as a form of internal communications, what’s the role of the visible executive for internal communications?
JANINE: So, Doug, that’s another really, really critical point to take into consideration when you’re building our thought leadership and executive visibility strategies because you want to make sure that your employees are on board. So, for all the same reasons that we spoke about before in terms of making sure you’re not going to alienate any of your stakeholders, whether they’re your customers, or clients, or partners, you want to make sure that you can stand behind what you’re saying, and people want to hear about something that they want to learn about, right? So, they don’t want to hear just about you talking about your product or your platform. They want to hear about a topic that they’re going to learn from, and that resonates right into internal communications because you want to take those messages and make sure that your employees know if you’re out there talking about climate change because the company is passionate about climate change and has initiatives that can back that up, and your spokesperson has the expertise in that area, then that builds credibility for your employees too. And as you’re generating external opportunities, whether it’s through a media tour, or, again, an op-ed, or media coverage about what you’re addressing, that lens to supporting recruiting initiatives, and it really increases employee morale. So, it’s really important that you keep that bigger picture in mind when you are identifying not only the topics, but the strategies for how you’re going to execute and how you’re going to communicate all of this to your employees.
DOUG: And you touched on the credibility factor. There’s an added credibility if the executive is saying something publicly rather than just saying it internally because they’re publicly on record. I know you’re a really positive person. So, I’ll give you the option, though. Do you have any sort of positive examples? Or if you want to go into the “what not to do”, you’re welcome to do that.
JANINE: Of course, I’m sorry that I started with a negative example, I did not mean to do that. So, a couple of use cases as we call them. So, when I was running communications for the NYU Stern School of Business. We worked with faculty across all different departments. We launched a number of different centers, one of which was the Center for Sustainable Business. We launched a fintech curriculum. And again, the most effective campaigns in working with the faculty and also with the centers was not talking about what they were doing or, for example, the recent research that this professor put out on x, y, z topic, but creating those thought leadership platforms around what the purpose of those centers were or what was the research. Not only what were the findings, but why was the research important to the bigger picture? And that ended up not just creating awareness of the initiatives, the research, and the centers, but creating experts. So, for example, when, you know, the gig economy started, we were working with one of the professors, and now he is synonymous with the gig economy. So, it’s really important to build that expertise, credibility, and bring a differentiated point of view, and also create a dialogue, a topic, a way to engage with your audiences.
DOUG: Where are we going to go in the future? How important will it continue to be that senior leadership at organizations is willing to be visible and is capable of being visible in a positive way?
JANINE: It’s not going to go away. That’s for sure. I mean, if you if you look back to, you know, through history, I should have this picture that I have in my home office that my dad gave me. It’s a little cartoon and it’s basically someone standing on the wall on the other side of the castle. And it says: “here’s the news you’re going to be reading today.” So, to the point being that we’ve always been informed by the media, and the media creates a fabulous opportunity for us to be able to get our thought leaders out there, and educate, and communicate. So, it’s an integral part of any communications plan. You’re not just going to be able to talk about your product and your company, and especially with companies that have so many different subject matter experts within it just creates an opportunity to talk about if you’re targeting different verticals, and you have a health care subject matter expert, and a manufacturing subject matter expert. It’s just so important that you’re out there talking about the issues at hand, having that point of view. So, it’s never going to go away, there’s only going to be more opportunities for it.
DOUG: So, Janine, I really appreciate you letting us look behind the castle walls to get some great ideas on the importance of executive visibility. Thanks so much for participating.
JANINE: Thank you, Doug. This has been a lot of fun and an important topic, and I look forward to working with all of you.