In 2003, Fred Cook became the third CEO of Golin Harris in 54 years, when Al Golin stepped aside. As the baton was passed, the financial picture at Golin Harris was a bit shaky. “We had grown complacent,” recalls Cook. “We were resting on our laurels. A collaborative, friendly and supportive culture meant that we would lose a new business pitch and you’d see a flurry of emails congratulating everybody for coming in second or third.”
Cook faced a dilemma. How could he infuse a winning attitude, part of his brand, without losing what worked at Golin Harris? He wanted to turn up the heat and change the chemistry of the company, without changing the people.
Think about a time when you’ve started in a new role. Does this sound familiar? You have good people, and good values, but something isn’t working. How do you preserve what works and still drives the company forward? One of the biggest challenges can be building a brand—and intertwining your personal brand with your company’s brand. Brand awareness is a marketing concept that measures other people’s knowledge of a brand’s existence. As a leader, one of your jobs is to create and enhance brand awareness, to use your personal brand to highlight the company brand.
The first thing Cook did was to celebrate what he wanted to emphasize — that winning attitude. “If a team won a piece of business, I sent out trophies with the Golin Harris logo. They came with a note card from me along with a gift card for $50.” There is nothing better than rewards and recognition to create tangible reminders of the values that you want to drive home.
You also have to start measuring people by those actions and behaviors. That may sound like a no-brainer, it’s consistently surprising how companies don’t do this. Once you establish the value, figure out how to measure it, track it and communicate results. Golin Harris started tracking “winning” success every way they could measure it, and by 2007, four short years later, they had won Agency of the Year awards from three different organizations.
The next and sometimes more difficult challenge is sustaining the momentum. How do you keep it going? Change is hard. At Golin Harris, one of the Agency Awards trophies was mailed from office to office, all 30 around the globe. People were encouraged to send back videos of the trophy. “They had it in front of the Eiffel Tower, on a ferry boat in Hong Kong; we shared all this on our web site.
The result was it stuck. Within a few years, the company was thriving financially. “What I am most proud of is we went from almost no profit to better than 20% margin without changing any of the senior management team,” says Cook. Golin Harris preserved what worked, while infusing a new value, by highlighting the value and making the message stick. People were excited because they were part of a winning team.
Building brand in a new leadership role
Fred Cook wasn’t well-known to the Golin Harris leadership team when he was brought from LA to Chicago and then made CEO a few short months later. He sensed the difficulty many people had. “It is one thing to be given a title and another to earn the respect that comes with the title,” he said.
Cook did what any smart leader would do. He went one-on-one to each leader and talked with them. “I wanted to understand their strengths and leverage them,” he said. “Then it was a matter of convincing them the change was good for the company.” This built momentum for a course of action. That doesn’t always happen. If it doesn’t, you need to take action. One person who is not committed can sink the ship. You have to ask for, and receive, 100% commitment. You and they owe it to the organization. Be sure that as you start in a new role, you build trust, get people on board, and assess whether they are all with you, hearts and minds.
Your communication strategy
Once everyone is on board, it’s time to cascade the message. This takes a sustained effort. People need to hear the message many times, feel it and believe it. You have to connect logically and emotionally. It has to stick. Communicating is the most important thing you do. If you don’t spend time on this, and keep it going, you know what will happen. People will dismiss the latest message as a passing fad.
A good communications strategy is necessary to execute every business plan. Without a plan for how to communicate, and time on your calendar to do it, your plan will fail. Plan on means daily, weekly and monthly communication activities. You should have meetings, written communication and a lot of clever, tangible reminders that keep the message front and center.
Remember, the success or failure of the communication plan can’t hinge on your actions alone. You are driving it; you are responsible for it. But you can’t be the only one to deliver the message. I’ve seen many organizations get bottle necked because the top person was the only one talking about it; the rest of the team was too “busy” doing to take the time to cascade the message. The best communication strategies include everyone in the organization.
Sometimes, one ingenious idea can be the hinge for the entire plan. Golin Harris employees were chattering about where the “trophy” would pop up next.
Your leadership brand is most valuable when it is known by many others. You have to create that buzz. Just like a product brand, your leadership brand impact is measured by the number of people who are aware of you and have a positive impression. Does your name spring to mind when people think of leaders in your space? Are you the one they call for a comment, or to give a speech, or be on a panel? When people are looking to do business in your category or industry being the first person they think of is invaluable.
Suzanne Bates is author of the new book “Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Brand as a Leader,” just out from McGraw-Hill. Founding CEO of Bates Communications, a firm that transforms leaders into powerful communicators who get results, Suzanne is also author of www.thepowerspeakerblog.com and two other books from McGraw-Hill: “Speak Like a CEO” and “Motivate Like a CEO.” Visit Suzanne’s website: www.bates-communications.com