The death of the silent CEO

  • August 16th 2023

We’ve all seen the change coming for over a decade now – brands adopting ‘human voice’ in their communications, the explosion in tools, platforms, and networks for mass communication, and those fearless leaders among us stepping out from behind the protection of their corporate comms teams to develop their own voice. 

We’ve watched brands open up a plethora of new communications channels for the world to communicate directly with them, promising clarity, transparency, and accountability for every element of the business’s existence. Gone are the days when corporate statements, triple checked by legal, devoid of life and meaning, were sufficient and acceptable responses to markets and customers seeking information and clarity. 

Whether brands were forced or went willingly, we’ve arrived in a world where consumers have a powerful voice and brands have to be vocal in response. This world is, on the whole, far better for brands and their communication practitioners, but we have undeniably reached the point where the leaders of these brands, the CEOs, are expected to have their own public voice. The business operates under the instruction of the CEO and the CEO needs to be able to speak for themselves.

Don’t panic, this isn’t a doom and gloom scenario – vocal CEOs get to communicate all the positive news about their business, adding support and confidence to the brand’s own communication efforts, the majority of which will be positive, thoughtful, and insightful. Vocal CEOs can quickly become industry thought leaders, attracting new customers and top talent, opening new markets, and forging deep trust with the public. The positives alone should drive every CEO to actively develop their personal public voice. 

If a CEO wants to hide from these positives, the brand’s voice will still do a decent job of delivering good news to the market because good news is easy. What a CEO cannot hide from is being answerable to the actions of the business, actions resulting from their decisions as the leader of the business. Today’s customers aren’t just interested in their own nearsighted product experience, they are far more invested in the businesses they give money to. Today’s customers care about the human and environmental impacts of the products they purchase, they care about the manufacturing process, treatment of suppliers, the application of the profits, and every other aspect of how you conduct business, and they expect the CEO to be answerable. 

Today’s consumers even care about businesses they don’t even spend money with! This isn’t about keeping your customers happy, it’s about being answerable.

Google’s search results are full of endless examples of the market rejecting concealed corporate responses to very human issues. Corporate speak and legal covering-up don’t work because consumers don’t solely care about the original issue, they also care about how the business responds, and if the response is rejected, the problem doubles. In certain situations it’s critical for the CEO to use their voice (with the support of legal, of course) to add some humanity to the situation, to understand, listen and respond the way a true leader would – in their own voice.

By Kimberly Afonso, CEO and Founder.