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CEO as Brand Ambassador

CEO as Brand Ambassador

Jim Joseph, Global President, Burson Cohn & Wolfe

There’s a new brand ambassador in town, and it’s not who you think. It’s not the CMO, nor the high-paid celebrity with a recent hit movie, nor the YouTube sensation with millions of followers.

It’s the CEO. Yes, indeed, the Chief Executive Officer is the new brand ambassador.

According to Wikipedia a “CEO,” is “the most senior corporate officer, executive, administrator, or other leader in charge of managing an organization.” I buy that. “Managing an organization” is core to the role, but certainly a CEO position is so much more than managerial in responsibilities.

It’s often said that “the buck stops with the CEO” and I would wholeheartedly agree. The CEO is responsible for every decision made by the company, simply by the nature of the fact that the CEO sets the vision and direction. Hands down. So while “manager” would be one descriptor, so too would be “visionary,” “motivator,” “leader,” and even “confidant.” Every CEO I’ve worked with has embraced these roles.

Historically, the CEO’s biggest job has been to serve as the face of the company, particularly for key stakeholders like employees, investors, and analysts. The CEO, as the ultimate decision maker, has always been the ambassador for everyone involved with the organization and the face of all things company related.

Think of Jack Welch for GE, Lee Iacocca for Chrysler, and Steve Jobs for Apple. These CEOs were the face of their organizations and I’m sure those within the ranks looked up to them for vision, motivation, and leadership. When I started my career at Johnson & Johnson, my CEOs Jim Burke and Ralph Larsen inspired me. For me, they were the face of the company. I’m sure they were the face of Johnson & Johnson for analysts who followed the pharmaceutical sector too.

In recent years, thanks to some thought-leading CEOs like Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Arianna Huffington of Thrive Global, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, CEOs now find themselves not just the face of the company but also the face of the brand they represent, engaging with consumers as well, not just employees.

According to Wikipedia, a “brand ambassador” is “hired by an organization or company to represent a brand in a positive light…and [embodies] the corporate identity in appearance, demeanor, values and ethics.”

When consumers think about a brand, they now also think about the CEO. They want to know who the CEO is and what the CEO is all about. And with the rise of brand commentary on social issues, CEOs need to speak with consumers who demand to know where brands sit.

Take a look at the CEOs of a few of the top 100 US brands. Many of them are brand ambassadors, propelling the business forward by communicating the brand’s distinct proposition.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, quickly became the voice of that brand, as he and the brand both faced industry-wide if not society-wide issues. Mark Zuckerberg was always the face of the company, but he quickly became the voice of the brand when speaking about the past and the future.

Mark Zuckerberg, and many other CEOs who symbolize their brands, are becoming more the norm than the exception. Debra Perelman for Revlon certainly fits that bill.

The CMO does the marketing, the CCO does the strategy, but the CEO does the talking. Consumers, hopefully, do the believing.

CEO... the new brand ambassador has arrived.