The role of the CEO is ever-changing and one of the most notable evolutions is the expectation that a CEO be a visible leader. Some of the world’s best-known brands just wouldn’t be the same without their visible CEOs or founders. Ambitious companies from startup through IPO can take some cues from these leadership examples. With everything that a CEO has on their plate, why would they focus on thought leadership? Thought leadership checks off the optimal business outcomes from PR from increased brand value to easier recruiting, from investor awareness to consumer adoration, the reasons ambitious CEOs stay visible are clear:

  • 60% of decision-makers will pay a premium because thought leadership shows deep thinking and other virtues important to them.

  • People who follow both a company and one or more of its executives are twice as likely to purchase from that company.

  • 71% of decision-makers agree: thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of an organization’s thinking.

  • 81% of consumers say CEOs should be personally visible.

 

Today, CEOs of public companies and private companies alike are finding creative ways to keep their company in the news and remain the face of the brand. Savvy leaders are looking for ways to weigh in on social or business issues that impact their customers or clients. Leaders are driving purpose and speaking about it openly, they’re weighing in on newsworthy items, and they do it without ever pitching or selling their products or services. The Wall Street Journal won’t be a brand’s shill, but it will cover remarkable ideas and perspectives – and CEOs tend to have those. Dollar for dollar, the time invested in thought leadership PR pays off handsomely.

Steve Jobs: Thought Leadership Pioneer

An early leader in thought leadership strategy was, of course, Steve Jobs. With his signature black turtleneck and visionary ideas, he kept both Apple customers and the media hanging on his every word.

We may never know why Jobs, who was famously persnickety, embraced a more public persona, but the outcomes were undeniable. Because Steve Jobs stood in front of the press, he was instantly more credible when he delivered high-flying ideas about how his newest Apple products would change the world. Jobs’ presentations always had a restrained flair of showmanship, but showmanship nonetheless.

Another advantage for Jobs? After Apple ousted him-HIS OWN COMPANY-being the face of the brand made him indelibly connected to Apple. Firing Jobs would have been much harder to do the second time, but because he embraced thought leadership, there was also less reason to do so – Apple products did very well. To this day, Jobs is inextricably tied to Apple’s brand.

Richard Branson: Innovating with Public Failures

Richard Branson’s key message is crystal clear: innovation. Branson walks the walk. several times, Branson took to the skies in a hot air balloon, risking his own life to set world records and at the same time, creating opportunities for people to talk about Virgin Airlines. This stunt paled in comparison to the ultimate flight into space he took with Virgin Galactic.

According to LinkedIn: [Branson is] popular with everyone from entrepreneurs to HR professionals and in industries ranging from tech to construction. The only continent where he doesn’t have a single follower is Antarctica. This kind of broad-based appeal is almost unheard of, but Branson has pulled it off because he has one other secret to success: authenticity. He is actively involved with his own press.

At one point in his native England, Richard Branson was famous for being famous. The press actually heckled him for his publicity stunts – but they never failed to cover them and Branson took it all in stride, knowing that his stunts appealed to consumers who would appreciate the distinct spin Branson put on the Virgin brand and its products. Branson also weighs in on topics popular with his audience, like income inequality and universal basic income, which he called for in 2018. Should UBI ever come to be, Branson will be able to say he was the first CEO to advocate for it, and if it never does, it’s not his fault. It’s a brilliant PR move.

Thought leadership is more important today than ever before, and yet there are PR landmines for CEOs everyone where. Don’t rush thought leadership, be strategic and purposeful. Positioning yourself as an expert is best done in stages as it takes time to find the right cadence and the right rhythm. Be prepared to spend some time developing your own personal brand in conjunction with your thought leadership PR agency. Taking the time to develop your own brand will create authenticity and trust – both essential elements of a successful thought leadership strategy.

 

For all Branson’s attempts to make history, there is one founder here who did it well before he did.

Sara Blakely: From Scrappy Sales to History Maker

From the start of Spanx, Sara Blakely took complete control of her reputation, and she knew what set her apart could be a differentiator for the brand,brand,brand,brand, too. One of my favorite Blakely stories is when she bought Olivia Newton John’s famous Grease pants at auction. Her target market, feeling slightly nostalgic for the days when they could have rocked those pants, celebrated the move – even as it was an extravagance, it was one that made her relatable to her target market. She got a ton of press on it, and she never even had to talk about Spanx – the press did it for her every time they said “Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx,” and the purchase was so on brand, it was difficult to ignore the brand.  But that move was only one of a thousand steps Blakely took to control the narrative. She positioned herself as a thought leader by leaning into her differences as a woman CEO. She told, retold, and retold the story of how she founded Spanx without apology for its humble beginnings.

Blakely’s willingness to be the face of Spanx paid off with the ultimate metric: she is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

 

Whether your goal is to make history or maximize achievement, thought leadership for CEOs have never been more important than it is now. You’ve already done the hard work of becoming an expert – why not leverage it?

 

As uncertainty rises, funding falls. At least that’s what the news would have you believe. But according to Inc. magazine, seed and angel deals are still trending upward, and early-stage companies with proven product are still getting most of the deals. In fact, 64% of venture funding is early stage, and seed deals through Q2 of 2022 were on par with the entirety of 2019 (Q2 NVCA/PitchBook). That means for hyper-growth or ambitious companies and challenger brands, there is still an opportunity for you. So what should you do when VC funding is down and inflation is still driving uncertainty? I’ve been through every recession since 9/11 and I’ve been working with ambitious brands and companies since then as well. So I’ve seen what successful businesses do during recessions to position themselves for competitive advantage, survival and growth, despite the economic hurdles. Over the years I’ve noticed, startups who focus on looking ahead while being laser-focused, and tend to survive tumultuous times.

Focus Your Energies and Budget

“Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it.”

Look at everything you’re doing and cut out the things you aren’t doing well. For example, let’s say your internal biz development team is excellent, but your event marketing isn’t producing the results you’d hoped for, take that event marketing budget and focus it on one thing your biz dev team says they need to get to the next level.

Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it. Outsourcing is just more nimble. What you outsource, be exceptionally clear about your goals, so you can maximize your reduced budget. Focusing your time and budget has the additional advantage of clearing out the cobwebs and giving you new insight into operational efficiencies too. Who knows? You might decide that outsourcing certain strategies, like PR, simply works better than doing it in-house, anyway.

Startups should also focus on the long term. Think about ways you can increase efficiencies with agency partners, and where you can maximize the partners you have on board.

 

Bullish on the Future

“Deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam, no matter what happens to the economy,”

What should a startup focus on when thinking about funding? No matter what happens to the economy, innovation rolls forward, and VCs know this. The money isn’t on solving today’s problems, it’s on solving tomorrow’s problems. According to Pitchbook, in Q1 of 2022, VC’s raised more money than in the entirety of 2019. So are coming down? Oh, absolutely, but VC’s know – the future is now.

Even when funding is down, deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam. So do your homework on where your product fits into the biggest challenges or opportunities in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Look at all the challenges the pandemic brought to light – those challenges are still top of mind, and the companies solving those problems will have a head start. Your corporate storytelling should also lean into the future and purpose driven initiatives. These two aspects will allow you to lead against your peers.

FinTech is another area where the gloom and doom may be over-reported – through Q2, FinTech funding was still more than in 2019, but it’s definitely not as frothy as 2021. FinTech founders may wish to focus on thought leadership and tie it into purpose-driven points of view in order to tap into future trends.

And although the cannabis industry has been experiencing its share of disruptions as of late, no one thinks that industry is disappearing, the growth is only projected to increase as more states move to legalize cannabis, and states create interstate sales as California has, and many expect the east coast to do. Experts predict the cannabis industry will be $100 billion by the end of the decade. You can learn a lot about the future of cannabis by reviewing the pitch decks from startups that recently secured funding.

Plan For Success

“Companies that survive this time focus… on problem-solving,”

Now is the time to think out loud and do your due diligence for tomorrow. Companies that survive this time focus their operations team on problem-solving. For example, if  VC funding doesn’t seem likely for you right now, turn your attention to policy initiatives at the federal and local levels. For example, the last infrastructure project had a lot of opportunities for climate-related startups. And the 2021 infrastructure package held lots of tidbits for infrastructure tech programs, that emerging industries like drones and UOV could take advantage of.

Consumer tech VC funding really has taken a sharp nose-dive. Storytelling PR campaigns may not be as attractive as they once were for consumer tech. Now is the time to look at product-based programs which increase awareness but not the budget.

Direct to Consumer (DTC) funding has radically pulled back, because simply having a DTC company isn’t in itself enough to attract investment – today, a DTC strategy is an expectation. But startups can take this time to develop something that can’t easily be replicated, like technology. Or, as investor Caitlin Strandberg said, don’t even ask for investment unless you have an Amazon strategy, because social media isn’t where they see buyers, “if you’re going to be where people buy—people are buying more and more on Amazon—you can expect they’ll search your brand name on Amazon, and you want to be on that search page,” so be looking your sales channels along with SEO and digital PR so your startup is poised for growth.

You should take this opportunity to do some scenario planning as well. Now is a great time to plan for a crisis, and create plans for things like cyber breaches ,which will help you secure your future.

 

Tomorrow’s greatest companies and emerging industries aren’t going to allow this uncertainty to derail them. This is where the rubber meets the road, and strategy makes a difference.

What is a Purpose-driven strategy? It’s the natural evolution of four converging cultural changes, the first is when social, cultural, and environmental issues became more visible and urgent, followed by consumers who expect brands to connect with nonprofits or social impact, driven by a lack of confidence in government to solve big problems, and finally, institutional investors evaluating environmental, social governance (ESG). Purpose puts a movement and impact first. Purpose-driven companies understand when society, the environment, and our collective well-being are doing well—businesses do better too.

Purpose-Driven Strategies have Three Key Pillars:

Employee and Systemic Engagement, Externally Virtuous, Meaty Measurable. 

These pillars of purpose require a company to be engaged in a systemic way, are independent of sales, and the impact should be both audacious and measurable. While purpose-driven strategies may give way to recruiting advantages, brand valuation, and competitive advantages, those are not the driving outcomes behind purpose. Purpose-driven PR is not the driving motivation behind purpose-driven implementations. The defining commitment of purpose is when it takes precedence over profitswhen internal culture is SO strong, so empowered, that decisions at all levels are made with a purpose in mind.

These Purpose Driven Strategy distinctions are important—because consumers—AND Investors are savvier than ever: They see through cause marketing campaigns with little authenticity. They’re alert to saying one thing, but doing another -greenwashing is so common it had a name.  Distrust in governments continued to decrease, while expectations of businesses continued to increase.

Purpose-driven strategies differ from the historical ways brands engaged with movements and nonprofits.

The Difference Between Purpose-Driven and Social Impact

Although used interchangeably sometimes, purpose and social impact are different. What exactly is purpose-driven strategy? It’s a deep, sustained engagement for change by which the company recognizes its own impact, including internally, at the corporate level. Social impact is 100% external and very often involves inspiring a stakeholder community, like customers, to work together for a sustained period. For this reason, businesses usually engage in social impact in partnership with nonprofits.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Philanthropy

The difference between purpose-driven strategies and philanthropy is based on the level of engagement the company commits to. Traditionally philanthropy was a broad term used to describe when a business contributed to a cause – anything from a social nonprofit to fundinga building or a program at a college. This type of giving required very little else from the company outside of the donation. Companies often used philanthropy to attract other monied investors or achive other strategic goals, but on the surface, having a philanthropic donation very often align with a marketing campaign or a PR campaign. Philanthropy also usually had very little to do with employees and customer activism or interests.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Corporate Giving

That gave way to CORPORATE GIVING –programs. The United Way is an outstanding example of corporate giving, this is when an organization encourages its employees to unite behind a single cause to create a greater donation scale. At this stage, companies get more involved as multiple departments such as PR, or HR to create systems and messaging around corporate giving. Companies whose employees give a lot receive recognition in the community. Corporate giving gave employees the opportunity to easily give to an organization; some corporate giving programs allow employees to choose a cause that was important to them, but in the most traditional sense, the executive team partnered with a nonprofit to create a corporate giving program.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Cause Marketing

CAUSE MARKETING are initiatives that tied sales to a corporate donation  – started in 1983 when Amex donated a penny to restoring the Statue of Liberty every time someone used their card—cardholders grew 45% and card usage increased by 28%. By 2013, 76% of consumers thought it was OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time. Before we knew it, there was a cause marketing campaign everywhere we looked, from pink ribbons to yogurt lids. Enterprises like Hersheys even had internal positions that combined marketing & corporate social responsibility.

If you’re interested in implementing purpose-driven strategies at your company, check out our free guide to implementing purpose. 

While there is no blueprint for creating a successful hyper-growth company, many of these businesses share some common qualities that help them stand out in the crowd of tech startups. But first, it’s essential to understand what a hypergrowth business is.

What Is A Hypergrowth Business?

Hypergrowth businesses are businesses that maintain a rapid rate of growth over time. The term “hyper-growth” was first coined in the Harvard Business Review. To be called a “hyper-growth” business, it must have a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 40% or more. Businesses with “rapid growth” have a CAGR between 20% and 40%. And businesses with “normal growth” maintain a CAGR below 20%. Hypergrowth usually occurs before a business has fully matured.

Many startup businesses are looking to be the next big hyper-growth company. Amazon, Uber, and Facebook are all excellent examples of hyper-growth companies. However, many hyper-growth companies eventually take a quick downturn and ultimately fail. Many hyper-growth companies fail because they get so focused on growth that they neglect to plan for challenges that the business will most certainly face during its rapid rise, including overworked employees, marketing costs, and a customer-focused culture, and more.

How Hypergrowth Companies Stand Out

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Uber all set themselves apart from other hypergrowth companies and continued to maintain a steady growth rate over time. You gain insight into how hypergrowth companies like these stand out from the competition by following these tips.

They Keep Track of Emerging Trends and Offer Customers Real Value

Because the market is constantly in flux and consumers are continuously rethinking their wants and needs, hypergrowth businesses understand that they must keep track of emerging trends. When they see an opportunity, they take it. When they see a gap in the marketplace, they fill it with a product or service that has value for customers. Hypergrowth businesses understand that perceived value is not enough; customers seek products and services that add real value to their lives. Being flexible and focused on the company’s target audience and their changing wants and needs enables hypergrowth businesses to scale rapidly when an opportunity becomes successful.

They Know How To Identify Areas for Growth

Most businesses grow by expanding their current customer base by regularly offering new products and services or by targeting new customers by diversifying the products and services they offer and testing opportunities in new markets. Hypergrowth companies are successful because they know how to identify the most significant opportunities for growth and then strategically pursue that opportunity while keeping an eye on product performance and marketplace trends.

They Hire Focused Leadership

Hypergrowth companies understand the value of competent, focused leadership. Hypergrowth businesses that fail often do so because company leadership got so focused on the company’s rapid growth that they were unable to focus on other challenges that would inevitably arise due to rapid expansion. Successful hypergrowth companies hire leadership that can focus on both scaling the business and scaling other business areas to match the company’s growth.

Successful business leaders do much more than share a vision for the company’s growth. They also move the business forward by spotting emerging trends and constantly adapting to the constantly changing market. While remaining focused on the overall vision, they also focus on executing a business strategy to achieve their business objectives.

They Value Their Employees

Hypergrowth companies value the people who work for them and strive to foster a healthy workplace culture. Overworking employees can quickly cause a business’s culture to become toxic. Hypergrowth businesses provide employees with rewards and benefits that have value. A good work-life balance is far more rewarding and important to the average worker than access to ping pong tables and craft beer on tap. Hypergrowth company leaders understand that their employees are the catalysts for rapid growth and that the company’s culture starts with its workers. Hypergrowth company leaders are intentional about developing a healthy and unique company culture from the outset.

They Turn Their Customers Into Brand Ambassadors

Successful hyper-growth companies turn their customers into ambassadors for their brand. There are few things more powerful for a company than its customers going out into the world and gushing about the company’s product or service. Hypergrowth businesses rely on word of mouth and constantly identify potential brand ambassadors to promote their products and services. In addition to customers, other brand ambassadors might be employees or industry influencers. No matter how they spread the word about your brand, word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools a business can leverage.

They Measure Their Success

Hypergrowth businesses understand that success doesn’t happen due to dumb luck. Successful hyper growth businesses are constantly tracking their successes and failures, gaining insights into what is working and what isn’t by harnessing as much data as they can — the more data, the better.

They Are Flexible and Innovative

Perhaps one of the most important qualities of successful hyper-growth businesses is their flexibility and ability to innovate constantly. In the digital age, the world is changing rapidly every day. Successful hyper-growth companies understand that to achieve success, they must be malleable, constantly reassessing consumers’ wants and needs and new marketplace opportunities. Because consumers today have more choice, successful hyper-growth companies must constantly innovate to stand out above other companies.

Marketing for Hypergrowth

How can you market your company for hyper-growth? Implementing a focused and strategic public relations campaign is one of the best methods for customer-driven companies that are on the brink of or are already experiencing hypergrowth. The keys to successful hyper-growth PR is to reach a broad audience, keep them engaged, and letting your service or product sell itself. Some ways to do this include:

  • Running giveaways and other promotions to attract new customers and keep them engaged
  • Keep your existing customers informed and engaged with your company
  • Show all of your customers that you care, not just through words but through your actions

PR for fast-growing companies can be challenging, and especially for those experiencing hypergrowth. With so many tasks to complete, outsourcing some of these efforts to a company with specific experience with hypergrowth PR is often recommended.

Contact Avaans Media

The foundation of any company is its vision, but a successful hyper-growth company grows due to a solid business strategy that meets its goals. If you have questions about hyper-growth business strategies, the PR team at Avaans Media is here to answer all your questions. Contact us today to discuss your business objectives.

Investing in PR is a commitment, so before you get started, it’s important to be clear on the competitive advantages of PR. Clarity around these advantages can ultimately help you enhance your overall PR outcomes.

  1. Enhance Credibility

    A trusted brand will increase sales and revenue, but there’s an additional reason to use the competitive advantages of PR: the bank of trust and credibility. Building trust and credibility has it’s own brand value advantages, the third-party validation from credible media outlets positively affects capital raises, increased sales, and future IPOs. But there’s more, if you get caught up in bad news, have a product recall, or other upsetting news, the trust you’ve established with customers, investors, and journalists will serve you well as you respond to bad news. Depending on the news, PR could also save you legal fees, re-branding fees, or lost sales. Credibility and trust build up over time, and if given the opportunity, trust is a lot like reinvested dividends, they grow exponentially over the years, so it’s never too early to make deposits in the trust bank.

  2. Cost-Effective Marketing

    Paid ads require copywriters, videographers or photographers, a team of editors for content, and that’s before you ever purchase the space or pay the ad and marketing agency for their creative ideas and campaign planning. PR agencies specialize in creating opportunities that come at little to no cost, like creating buzz, word of mouth, or owned content. Product placements or executive quotes, interviews or public speaking opportunities, awards, these have little to no additional cost, and yet they lend 3x more credibility than an advertisement. So what’s the competitive advantage? Let your competitors spin their wheels on the ever-changing price of digital ads or the unknown impact of a print ad and instead invest in sticky earned media, with a predictable budget, that delivers awareness AND credibility.

  3. Increased Loyalty

    What would you pay to have 50% or more of your customers or clients be completely loyal to your brand, no matter how much your competition targets them? Competitive advantage PR campaigns that appeal directly to customer values or purpose have an enormous impact on customer loyalty and earned media. Purpose-driven programs also have the added competitive advantage of potentially appealing to a segment of journalists too. Well-considered PR campaigns will have the added competitive advantage of giving you more opportunities to communicate with your customers and give your employees more opportunities to humble-brag about the socially aware company they work for. And when the recruiting market is tight, giving your employees pride in their work saves on recruiting and turn-over costs.

  4. Playing with the Big Boys

    If you’re not already a household name, then one of the competitive advantages of PR is the statement that you’ve arrived. When media outlets start covering your products, you’ve entered into a rarified realm because less than 2% of all companies EVER receive media exposure, and we bestow those that do with more credibility. Simply appearing in an article with a household name elevates your company. At Avaans Media, our clients are hyper-growth companies or those in emerging industries, or developing purpose-driven campaigns – what all our clients have in common is when they come to us, they are in the mix, but not well known to key stakeholders, but when they leave us, they have measurable outcomes including capital investment, mergers and acquisitions, and IPOs.

  5. Leverage Your Other Initiatives

    One additional competitive advantage of PR is having them at the table when planning internal or external initiatives. PR experts can help you develop those plans with media reactions in mind. If you DON’T want press on something, PR experts will know how to enhance that outcome and will help you prepare if it hits the press. On the other hand, PR experts can advise how to leverage marketing initiatives for additional coverage. We’ve helped our clients identify many ways their investments in branding, partnerships, and even advertising can pay 3X more dividends through earned media.

 

PR is the choice of brands with big plans and that’s because the competitive advantages of PR can’t be beaten. Regardless of your strategic business goals, talk to the Avaans Media PR experts about them so we can advise you on the best ways to make those goals a reality faster.

Ever notice the best people always seem to go to the best companies? Why is that? Reputation matters and PR improves recruiting outcomes. The magical part is this: it doesn’t matter whether you’re recruiting for executives or recent graduates, a strategic PR plan makes attracting the right talent easier and even keeps your best employees.

  1. Strong Brand Values Attract The Right Candidates

    You want candidates to be a good fit for your company’s culture and values. This is one way PR improves recruiting, especially important for companies in emerging industries and hyper-growth companies who may not have the resources for fancy employment retention programs.  Your PR should underscore your company’s values and contributions to society, your industry, and yes, your employees. And candidates who care about culture are more valuable employees. Brand values are an inside-out job. But you should celebrate those values with purpose-driven activations with recruitment in mind. Not every activation is worthy of the Wall Street Journal, but if that’s a goal, then make it newsworthy. Otherwise, this is where social media can be an outstanding messenger of your PR initiatives. But make no doubt about it, the best candidates do a Google search and check out your social profiles before they accept your job offer.

  2. Give Employees an Opportunity to Brag

    Everyone wants to work in a place where their co-workers are happy to be there. Here, activate your earned media with your employees. Every time you receive coverage, be sure to tell your employees and let them brag about the company to their friends and community. You can encourage sharing with recruitment bonuses, and other internal spotlights on employees who share your good news far and wide. Employee advocacy is a really effective way that PR can improve recruiting. There’s another benefit to encouraging employees to share content:

  3. Reduce Employee Turnover with PR

    Everyone wants to feel proud of where they work, and the more they talk about how proud they are, the more committed they become to that feeling of loyalty and pride. That’s a Captivation Motivation fact, it’s akin to sunk costs. The more we sink into something, the harder it is to walk away. So PR improves recruiting through increased employee pride, and that pride reduces costly turnover. It’s a lot harder to complain about your job on social media if you’re regularly posting about how much you love your company and job.

  4. Reputation Management Matters

    You definitely want someone monitoring your overall reputation. That includes everything a potential candidate might see from Glass Door to news coverage and even reviews. You also want someone to identify how certain audiences perceive your overall communications, and what you can do to improve your communications. For example, if you’re emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in your recruitment, but no one on your website reflects DEI values, it feels very shallow and unwelcoming to those candidates. Do your job descriptions match the education levels and pay ranges you’re hiring for? If you’re hiring for people with college degrees, those job descriptions should look and feel differently than your job descriptions for roles that don’t require a college degree.

  5. Appeal To The Ego

    When high potential or high-level candidates see that news articles and media coverage of company executives, that’s a pretty compelling benefit for ambitious executives. It’s an outstanding way for your company to attract talent, even in the tightest recruitment markets. Plus, your that coverage adds benefits to your company’s brand values as well. Make sure your recruitment pages include executive coverage so potential employees can envision thier own name in the headlines too.

 

Using PR to improve recruiting outcomes is only one of the ways PR supports the most important business strategies, read more about the other 5 ways PR improves business outcomes.