Leadership Is Communication

October 12 2020

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity and information overload. Stakeholders are bombarded with messages every moment of the day. This crowded and cluttered marketplace has not only made stakeholders more informed, it has also made them more demanding about what they expect when they interact with brands and corporations. Communicating corporate and brand values has become key to engaging the market today.

In the “State of Corporate Reputation in 2020: Everything Matters Now” report, the global executives surveyed attribute 63 percent of their company’s market value to their company’s reputation. Additionally, 8 out of 10 global executives across regions think that the CEO should be the key communicator of the organisation’s values.

In fact, brands will find it a challenge to sell products if their key communicators can’t get the brand story across to the marketplace while companies won’t be able to establish a credible reputation in the market if they are unable to win over their stakeholders positively. At a company level, leaders who can’t articulate the organisation’s dreams will not inspire action from the team members.

Communication is Leadership

As the CEO is the “face” of the organisation, stakeholders want to know who the CEO is and what her or his values are. Reality is: “Leadership is Communication and Communication is Leadership”. You can’t separate one from another.

Branding is no longer just about image and creatives. It’s about manifesting authentic brand values across all stakeholder touch points:

Stakeholders want to know how brands and organisations are prioritising people, purpose and partnerships in addition to profits.

CEOs must be able to articulate the brand’s position on issues and take the lead in implementing appropriate actions.

As such, CEOs need to be able to engage with stakeholders – both internal and external. This is becoming more crucial with rising expectations on brands to make a stand on social issues. CEOs today need to be able to carefully craft a powerful and authentic brand story.

Communicating your brand story well

Over the years, Perspective Strategies has had the opportunity to coach many corporate/brand spokespersons in the art of crafting the corporate and brand narrative. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Understand the media
    Spokespersons need to understand the characteristics of the various media platforms in order to effectively communicate through them. For paid and owned media, you have full control over the narrative. But with earned and social media, you have to influence and co-create the narrative with the story your organisation had already prepared.
    In the wild, wild west environment of social media, the ability to influence and take control of the narrative becomes even more important. You need to identify key influencers and leverage points which you can employ to help you get your message across effectively. Regardless, the messaging must be clear, authentic and most importantly, consistent.
  2. Prepare your narrative
    As the spokesperson for a brand/organisation, the CEO is the custodian of facts and has the responsibility to communicate them to stakeholders clearly and compellingly.
    Some good questions to ask yourself when preparing your key messages are, “what is my communication objective?”, “what is the key message that I want my audience to remember?”, “what is the response that I want from my audience?”. Questions like these will put you in the frame of mind to craft a compelling story.
  3. Take control and interact positively
    Keep in mind that communication is a dialogue, not a monologue. As such, it is important to be able to draw them into the brand narrative or point of view you are sharing.
    The way you interact with the various media goes a long way to this end.

Here are very important Dos and Don’ts to remember:

  • Don’t get emotional
  • Don’t mention things you are not sure of, and
  • Don’t say “no comment” – that automatically makes people suspect you are hiding something!
  • Do stay positive, and learn how to turn negatives into positives
  • Do take every opportunity to state your key message
  • Do have bridging statements – these allow you to refocus the discussion to your key message
  • Do have some key words and phrases to set the tone of the conversation

“Non-verbal” communication, such as tone or body language, is very important as well. The Mehrabian Communication Model highlighted that body language accounts for as much as 55% of the perception of a person’s message, while tone accounts for up to 38%. Actual words only make up of about 7% of influence on your audience! Things can take a bad turn if your audience perceives that your non-verbal communication is contradicting your words.

In these trying times, the ability of a CEO to genuinely represent brand story may just be the most powerful tool in your engagement with stakeholders. As stakeholders judge organisations by the values they hold, they will also judge the way CEOs communicate those values. The cost of not being able to tell a compelling brand story can be too high for an organisation or brand.

Preparing the CEO to tell the brand story well is key to inspiring audiences and turning them into passionate advocates in these new market conditions.

Andy See
Founder, Principal Partner & Managing Director, Perspective Strategies
After spending more than 10 years working with leading multinational and Malaysian consultancies including The Boston Consulting Group and Edelman, Andy decided to reinvent his career by setting up his own firm. This led to the birth of Perspective Strategies in 2006. The boutique agency grew quickly with the promise of delivering strategic counsel and quality services to clients and has over the years won numerous industry awards on the global and national levels. Aside from steering the firm’s strategic direction and managing key client relationships, Andy regularly conducts spokesperson training and speaks at industry events on strategic communications, issues management and stakeholder engagement. Currently, he is the President of the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia (PRCA Malaysia), spearheading efforts to champion the interest of PR professionals including industry best practices, quality and standards as well as talent development.  Since 2017, Perspective Strategies has been part of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), one of the world's leading independent PR agency networks. Andy is on the Executive Committee, serving as Secretary and Regional Vice-President for Asia Pacific (APAC). As Regional Vice-President, Andy leads PRGN's initiatives in growing the network's presence in APAC by pushing to enhance communication, improve coordination and drive momentum at the regional level. Andy also actively contributes articles and thought leadership pieces on PR, leadership and strategic communications in various publications and online platforms.