Amanda Guisbond is founder and chief communicator at Intersection: Health.
Remember in school when you had to write a paper about your hero? You might say it was a teacher, astronaut or athlete. But you never responded with “high school, NASA or Nike.”
That’s because people follow people, not brands.
A looming recession is already impacting organizations in terms of hiring, budget and resource allocation. Communications departments are feeling the squeeze. In-house teams are shrinking, budgets are scrutinized, and everyone is being asked to do more with less.
The good news; you can actually do more with less. One solution is for communications teams to prioritize executive communications and thought leadership over brand communications.
There’s good reason to believe your target audiences will respond to your executive’s communications – and more than your brand.
Take LinkedIn as an example, where people-authored content consistently outperforms brand-authored content. Posts to LinkedIn by employees went 561% further than the same content shared by a brand. This is because, on average, employees have 10 times more social connections than a brand, and when they do post to social media, their followers are more likely to engage with that content. In fact, brand messages are re-shared 24 more times when posted by an employee. TikTok is another good example: of the top 100 most followed TikTok accounts in the U.S.: 97 are people; three are brands.
Your customers respond to people-led content over brand-led content because they desire communications that embody authenticity and trust. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer found that more people trust their employer over government, non-profit organizations and media. Interestingly, family-owned businesses were trusted more than private or publicly held businesses. It’s easier to build trust when communication comes from a person you might feel you know, or to whom you can relate.
People want to hear from leaders, too, and when they do, they express more trust in a brand and have a more positive impression of that brand’s leadership. Just by posting to social media, CEOs are seen as better communicators. Specific to social, a CEO’s comments when delivered through social media are seen as more trustworthy than comments shared via traditional media, such as a news story. That’s a win for owned vs. earned content.
Brand communications can also be expensive. Take a B2B2C business with multiple potential customers and decision-makers, varying product messages, and many potential outlets and messages. A monthly PR retainer for a mid- to late-stage brand is costly, and there’s not a standard by which in-house teams can easily measure the value, or difference between potential partners. I’ve worked with companies that were asked to pay anywhere from $500 to $30,000 for one piece of written content or anywhere from $2,500 to $50,000 for monthly PR.
Executive communications is totally different; it can be streamlined to support one executive on developing their thought leadership platform, honing in on their key messages, and demonstrating that through written bylined content for media and social media, speaking engagements, media interviews, speeches and more.
Armed with the right messages, content and coaching, an executive can deliver more on their own. Teams really feeling the budget squeeze can opt for more upfront support and coaching, some ghost writing, and ultimately, choose how much their executive can, or wants to, manage on their own. Unlike a brand, the executive can keep generating content and communications if they have the right upfront guidance and channels in place.
It’s a tough time for organizations who have to make creative choices about where they allocate their time and spend. And it’s a great time to invest in executive communications over brand. The future of PR and communications is authentic, vulnerable, personalized – and led by people. Arm your executives with the right coaching, content and channels now, and it will pay dividends.