Leading from the front

These days, business leaders have to be the face of their company whether they like it or not.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With the sun in the sky and the weekend approaching, here at MT we like nothing better than kicking back with a report from private bankers Coutts. In its latest offering, entitled ‘Face Value: Your Reputation as a Business Asset’, PR man Michael Hayman (CEO of the Communication Group) looks at how important a business leader’s personal brand has become to their company, and invites various luminaries to contribute articles on their public profile.

The basic premise is that because media scrutiny is now so all-encompassing and personality-driven, it’s impossible for business leaders to hide behind their companies. In fact, they’re increasingly seen as the personification of their business – so if they play their cards right, it can give them an enormous advantage over their rivals (ask Richard Branson – he’s made a career out of using daft publicity stunts to boost the Virgin brand).

Several of the articles inevitably focus on these business leaders’ love-hate relationship with the media (or the ‘feral beast’, as Tony Blair affectionately likes to call us). Hayman’s position (as you might expect from someone who advised John Major on his ill-fated ‘Back to Basics’ campaign) is clearly that journalists rarely let truth get in the way of a good story – so leaders need to get their retaliation in first. He quotes approvingly from C. Northcote Parkinson: ‘The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel and misrepresentation’ (pity nobody mentioned this to the private equity industry last year).

Some provide interesting insight. Haymarket chairman Lord Heseltine writes about how the media acts as a check on the power of governments (great bit of writing, boss), while celebrity chef Tom Aikens and shirt-maker Emma Willis talk about the extra responsibility of running a business with your name on the door. And we also enjoyed ex-Dragons Den entrepreneur Doug Richard’s piece, which argues that the CEO ‘must be emblematic of the company and the company’s voice’.

Others left us cold. YouGov’s Peter Kellner says the media fails to understand the complexity of business and is ‘poor at reporting shades of grey’ – presumably there are no shades of grey within this particular generalisation? And ex-WestLB financier Robin Saunders moans about how jolly beastly the press were to her when one of her loans went bad, apparently forgetting that if she hadn’t courted the press so assiduously in the first place her bank might never had the profile to do the deals it did (apparently she only agreed to do the article ‘to share the risks of running the gauntlet of a public profile gone out of control’, which is very magnanimous of her).

But the basic point of the report holds: there are choppy economic waters ahead, and building a good reputation will make it easier to navigate them. And if nothing else, it might get you a slot on the next series of Dragons' Den.

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