by Sarah Sherwood, publicist
In my experience, CEOs and senior management generally spend their days managing internal issues: tasks like managing company performance, unsettled budgets, and staff conflicts. Frustrated, they would like to pay more attention to what it is they believe they have been hired to do—focus on more significant external issues such as competitive research and competitor activity, customer behavior, and market trends and analysis. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review reported they spend just three percent of their time with customers. The same was true with investors. As a result of this, the distracted CEO is at times frustrated, and for good reason. The effect we often see are weak strategic plans—fit neatly into a boiler plate of mission, goals and quotas void of an overall objective, and trendy-worded strategies that don’t amount to much. When the quarterly numbers appear, there is both good news and bad. What keeps the CEO up at night is the fear that the company is merely limping along.
I’ve been a publicist for 29 years now and like many of my peers, I see that CEOs who prioritize their time establishing a clear corporate identity, while delegating the important role of internal caretaking, tend to thrive more. Research backs up this concept: that a CEO is better fit to take the shared internal culture and strengths and build key relationships that externally back up and affirm a company’s claims.
What leads to this impasse I describe earlier is the mistaken philosophy that external issues, such as communications, should be delegated and are somehow fully taken care of without the CEO’s involvement. CMO’s are notoriously important to crafting and maintaining a strong corporate identity, but they are not performing to their potential without the leadership and active involvement of the CEO. There can be a natural partnership between the two roles.
Many companies do not even have a CMO. Their reputation and identity does limp along, and they often wonder why they aren’t better known and engaged with companies and people they can help. It is because reputation isn’t prioritized at the highest levels of the company or organization. Reputation management is by nature a senior management function, yet companies are delegating reputation to those without enough experience. Once in a crisis, the CEO’s position matters because it magnifies this very problem—and the organization’s alertness to consumer criticism and wide spread misinformation is not always remedied with a CEO that must play catch up.
External management involves the message every CEO wants to provide its publics. Most realize you cannot teach your lesson without a wide classroom. Ironically, more opportunities exist than ever: Major newspaper circulation is up dramatically; digital media outlets abound; there are tools to develop relevant and powerful strategic plans and new apps that make video production and circulation easy and affordable for any company. A CEO has a menu of possibilities at his or her fingertips. Are you there or are you struggling?
If you don’t feel fulfilled concentrating on internal issues so much, maybe you shouldn’t.
Sarah Sherwood is a publicist in Northern California. Her experience includes Edelman Worldwide, Stanford Hospital & Clinics, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
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