CEO visibility is a double edged sword. You can decline conference invitations, be selective about the ones you speak at or accept them all. For CEOs, external communications including conferences, interviews, industry events, seminars, etc. all carry some sort of risk . Today the audience can boo you via Twitter, blog poor reviews or erroneously extrapolate a sentence out of context and then accuse you of being a CEO celebrity (the worst offense ever these days). On the up side, CEOs can speak at conferences, network with others and get the company’s story told before a receptive and interested audience. In the many years that I have been advising CEOs and commenting on their behavior, I’ve always thought that speaking up and out is beneficial to employees, customers, the industry and the overall reputation of this select executive class (which needs mending). Today, more than ever, executive conferencing should be strategic, smart and as my friend Carol says, “advance the business.”
Weber Shandwick just released its new analysis on CEO and C-level participation at executive conferences. We compared the past year with 2007’s results on where All-Star CEOs (from Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey) took to the podium. Here are some of the key results. For more detail, check out the press release from our Voiceboxx team.
- CEO participation at top global forums increased 96% from 2007 among the top 50 world’s most admired companies. The increase in the 2009 CEO speaking circuit roster was most probably the result of more CEO speakers from the financial sector and more CEOs who saw their rivals on stage and decided to “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
- Other C-level executives (CMOs, CFOs, CIO/CTOs) increased their participation by 40% from 2007. The Five-Star Events at which All-Star CEOs have been the most likely to speak in 2009 were (in rank order): Clinton Global Initiative, Chief Executives’ Club of Boston, the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, the World Economic Forum, Fortune Brainstorm: Tech, Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) Board of Boards, and the Detroit Economic Club’s National Summit.
- Top events for other C-level executives included (in rank order): FT (Financial Times) Innovate, Fortune Brainstorm: Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology CFO Summit, Conference Board’s Marketing Conference and the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. For C-suite executives in good times and bad, innovation and technology are attractive platforms for companies to position themselves competitively, to listen to trends and to interact personally with customers and prospects.
Some insights from the analysis are:
- Despite this past year’s tough economy, heightened executive scrutiny and limited budgets, top level conferences continue to attract executives from the most respected organizations in the world. Businesses are clearly hungry for channels to network with customers and communicate their points of view. Our results highlight how many of the world’s most admired company leaders selected speaking platforms in 2009 to demonstrate leadership strength and competitive differentiation.
- For the most part, a fair number of the most admired company CEOs did not shy away from the spotlight but instead participated in conferences that required their insights and ideas in economic problem-solving, corporate responsibility and innovative business practices. This class of respected CEOs appeared to understand that speaking up was one way of being part of the solution rather than the problem derailing the world economy. Some of these leading CEOs clearly decided to participate in the reinvention of business and help drive renewed prosperity. This is a good thing and we expect no less.