The conditions of 2020 have necessitated that companies and their leadership communicate more frequently and more directly with consumers, employees and additional stakeholders. We have not seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in generations. The economic and social impact of this outbreak is something that we will be talking about for years to come. When you add to it the recent public awakening to decades, if not centuries, of systematic racial injustice in this country, it’s easy to understand why people are clamoring to hear from the top on these important issues.
This year has resulted in what feels like an unusually high number of messages from CEOs, and the ongoing unpredictability likely means businesses will continue to need to craft these types of communications. Here are some key factors that will help your message resonate:
What to Consider When Drafting a Message from the CEO
Communicate with a Purpose
We likely all received a barrage of “We’re in this together” emails signed by CEOs when the coronavirus pandemic first wreaked havoc on our daily lives, and again as the country grappled with the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. It can be tempting to focus on how to stand out within crowded inboxes, but ultimately this shouldn’t drive your approach.
Your CEO’s communication should not be a marketing tool, but rather a brand positioning matter. People – your employees, your customers and clients – care about what you’re doing more than what you’re saying, so ensure that your CEO articulates actionable elements of your company’s stance or policy. Don’t address social issues and external matters unless your CEO is ready to publicly acknowledge similar issues inside your own organization. Failing to provide your plan of action to improve the situation is a common misstep that can be avoided.
The most critical element of a communication from the CEO is that the message is genuine. As you develop talking points, start by listening to your CEO’s point of view on whatever the matter is at hand. Putting words in their mouth, where they say what you want them to say and not what they authentically want to say, is a surefire way to create an issue.
We often tell our clients, “It is not our job to tell you what to say. It is our job to hear what you want to say and help you say it better.”
Addressing a topic in an insincere manner can do more harm than good. Employees and the public are good at recognizing when CEOs share messages that do not reflect their personal views and experiences and will not hesitate to call out leadership for being inauthentic.
Select the Best Format
Always seek the best format for the delivery style of your leaders. You can craft the best message from the CEO, but if it is delivered ineffectively, your intent is lost. People want to hear directly from the CEO, in their own words. The ideal way to do this is with video because it humanizes your top leader, allowing their personality to shine through. That being said, some CEOs don’t naturally excel at this format, so consider providing coaching and practice opportunities at least quarterly so they’ll be ready to communicate.
Think Beyond the CEO
Overexposed CEOs do not carry the reputational weight that the organization needs to effectively communicate. When something comes from the CEO, it should signal to the organization and the outside world, this is important.
As we continue to adapt to the unpredictable nature of this year, consider what sort of developments warrant a message from the organization’s highest level of leadership. If it is a matter of great importance to your people internally, then they need to hear from the top. They need to know the CEO, along with the rest of the C-suite, is listening to their concerns.
To address concerns expressed by customers or the public at-large, there needs to be an evaluation by the communications team on two things: One, is this something we can speak about as an organization? Two, is the CEO or someone else better suited for this topic? A subject matter expert may be better equipped to address a specific issue.
While 2020 has thrown many challenges our way, communicating clearly and efficiently remains key to preventing brand crises that can threaten your business and customer relationships. If your team is looking for guidance when communicating during these difficult times, we encourage you to reach out to our experts today.