Consulting CEOs belong in the spotlight – even if they are “only” primus inter pares

Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly

Consulting CEOs belong in the spotlight – even if they are only primus inter pares

January 11, 2022

Le roi est mort, vive le roi” is what I shout to some clients during their CEO positioning.

This classic heraldic formula – “The king is dead, long live the king” – used to be used to announce the death of the old king and at the same time proclaim the new one. Thus, the continuity of the monarchy was emphasized.
What does this have to do with branding strategy consultancies and audits? Very much!

Too many professional services players are still afraid to consistently position their CEO.

Three reasons for the invisibility of CEOs

  • He/she is ‘only’ Primus inter Pares; i.e. not a ‘real’ CEO
  • He/she has no time for continuous external communication – the focus is on the (additional) internal management task besides the consulting mandates
  • He/she is ‘only’ elected for a fixed term – one would have to position a new CEO at great expense every three years.

After more than two decades in the consulting industry, I can understand the arguments.
Still, my advice is this: Build your CEO as a strong personal brand!

It’s worth it – especially for medium-sized and smaller houses.

Three arguments why your CEO should become a unicorn brand

1. People buy from people

Unfortunately, consulting expertise is not a USP in any industry group. Ultimately, most consulting services are an interchangeable commodity. Apart from perhaps the “famous three” – the MBBs– the following applies: The human factor decides and differentiates.
What’s more, the CEO’s reputation accounts for 58% of a company’s overall reputation. So if you’re not visible as a brand ambassador, you’re missing out on tremendous leverage.

That’s why HR consultant Wolfgang Eckelt recommends what he calls “unicorn branding.” Corporate leaders should become unicorns, he urges in his book. The special thing about the unicorn, he says, is that it has special, unmistakable characteristics and is therefore immediately recognizable to everyone.

2. Effective differentiation is worth money

According to meta-consultancy Cardea AG – our #MBS cooperation partner – 47% of consultants rate the market perception of their own company as ‘mediocre’ only.
In addition, one in two buyers of consulting services finds it difficult to identify the right management consultant. A real differentiation between the consulting firms was missing.

But: Consulting players can generate 20% more revenue through differentiating positioning and a strong brand. With consistent implementation, even up to 40%.

This “Be different or die ” decides on market shares.
Consequently, a highly visible CEO persona brand belongs in any holistic positioning. This is all the more true for mid-sized full-range players that, like the MBBs, offer all industries and services.

Eva Manger-Wiemann (Cardea AG) and Susane Mathony (Mathony Brand Strategists)

3. Trust: It is easier to build with leaders than with abstract corporate logos

According to the “Trust Barometer,” 68% of Germans expect CEOs to act when the government fails to find answers to social challenges.
58 % are convinced: CEOs should be accountable to the public.

Professional services leaders cannot escape this clear expectation. CEOs who demonstrate poise as “good corporate citizens,” show their face and thus take personalized responsibility, make it easier to build trust. Companies that are facing restructuring and, if necessary, need to have to avert an impending insolvency always opt for the people behind a consulting brand – and not for an abstract logo.

My five tips for a successful CEO positioning

1. Kick-off interview in the first 100 days: Your personal ‘coronation mass’

The first 100 days at the helm are considered crucial for the entire term. I do see it the same way for CEO positioning. The kick-off interview has to be meticulously planned in terms of content and strategy, including the question which journalist to approach.
In Germany, such ‘coronation fairs ‘ – to remain in the image of the entry – take place almost exclusively in three media: Handelsblatt, FAZ or WirtschaftsWoche.

Take a look, for example, at the opening interview by Christina Raab (Accenture) in WirtschaftsWoche: “After the pandemic, we won’t go back to typical consultant mode “. Since last September, the graduate in business administration has been responsible for business in GSA and Russia. She has followed in the big footsteps of long-time Germany boss Frank Riemensperger.
The tour d’horizon in WirtschaftsWoche – from the glass ceiling moment as a woman at the top to acquisition strategies to new work models after COVID19 – is a positioning masterpiece. All core messages relevant to Accenture are played out.

The feature on the appointment of Michael Brigl (BCG) as the new head of Germany – “A Bavarian for BCG” – comes from the PR textbook. The FAZ-journalist is Tillmann Neuscheler, one of the three ‘grandees’ in German journalism for the consulting sector. He had also reported on the appointments of Matthias Tauber as well as Christoph Schweizer (both BCG).

2. PR: Not a flash in the pan, but a continuum

Withdrawing after the opening interview is not a solution. It’s a matter of staying on the ball with opinions and attitude. Particularly for the medium-sized and smaller houses, the necessary continuum means a challenge in some cases. Those who do not show up in the media in a strategically timed but continuous manner are in danger of being forgotten. This risk describes my column “ The seven sins of PR – and how to avoid them in consulting “.

The two pandemic years also put editorial teams under heavy pressure. If you’re a Big4 or consulting firm and you’re not on the short list, including your cell phone number, you have a problem. Especially in important industry overviews, such as those most frequently published in the Handelsblatt by Bert Fröndhoff, he/she then simply does not appear.

Finally, I would like to point out that today online is just as important as print. Take a look at the wonderful LinkedIn feed from Kirsten Ludowig, Handelsblatt!

3. Become a successful social CEO – even if you are not a digital native

A previous op-ed outlined the CEO Reputation Premium including the great potential of social CEOs . According to this, the LinkedIn presence belongs in the communication mix of a successful CEO positioning.

Active social CEOs such as Julie Sweet (Accenture) or Matthias Tauber (BCG) seek opinion leadership, push their own visibility in a targeted manner and thus drive the brand differentiation of their companies.
Even if it may irritate one or the other of the over-40 generation:
Selfies, videos and portraits are a credible differentiation for them, too.

To avoid misunderstandings: It is NEVER about as many followers as possible for CEOs on LinkedIn.

No one should surf a wave for mere ‘image polish’. Hypes always fall short strategically. Strong CEO brands are created by the equation “strategy x congruence x personality x concept x message.

To put it another way: If you want to be successful as a personal brand in the long term, you first define your brand core, your positioning, your attitude, your authentic storytelling motifs, and then stick to them. Super brands like Nike or Harley Davidson don’t change their positioning every day either.

4. Sustainable visibility: Please leverage the whole spectrum of positioning platforms

Unfortunately, even exciting consulting or Big 4 CEOs don’t become strong personal brands overnight, nor through one channel alone. Multi-channel is in demand. Flank your press relations and social media presence with any other form of communication that suits you and your personality.

Leverage exclusive CEO fireside chats, the WEF in Davos, international conferences or webinars. Think about podcasts and blogs as well. If you do have a choice between your Corporate podcast or that one from Gabor Steingart/ThePioneer‘s, you know where the reach is greater.

5. Do not hide on your own website

Last but not least, check whether you can find the CEOs/country managers of the top 15 management consultancies in Germany on their websites. And if so, how long the search takes. Based on the current Luenendonk list, I tried this over the weekend. For some consulting firms, this information does not exist at all or only very hidden unfortunately. Presumably, the primus inter pares idea applies again or classic website navigations do not provide this ‘special role’. Here, the CEO ‘hides’ in the partner ranks.

My tip: Become clearly visible on your website as well – and not just with information about your practice group!

Conclusion: Unicorn status doesn’t happen by itself, but it’s worth it

Even if I still meet some who are too modest or who don’t believe in their highlighted positioning as unicorn: Something is changing. Especially for the medium and smaller consulting firms. They have realized the sales leverage of successful differentiation.

This applies not only to the corporate brand, but also to employer branding:
If you want to make the most of the next boom in the professional services industry, you need great new consultants. And they’d rather work for people whose values and attitudes they value than for an abstract logo.

If you are looking for a trusted Marketing advisor who helps you “Rise & Shine!” with a superb positioning: Let us have a call!

Author: Susanne Mathony

Susanne Mathony
Susanne Mathony

The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

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