Speaking Your CEO’s Language

Speaking Your CEO’s Language

Posted on January 06, 2015 0 Comments

shutterstock_132224441In my last post I began to explore my initial experiences interacting with CEOs. It can be a frustrating experience for marketers, especially young ones, to try and understand the approach their CEOs have to running and marketing the business.

I was a young product marketing manager in my first corporate job after leaving academia when my company got acquired by a larger (but still relatively small) public company. Because it was in the services industry in the late 1990s, it succeeded quite well with very little in the way of strategic marketing initiatives. Just prior to the acquisition, they had brought in a new CEO, fresh off his MBA but savvy in the ways of marketing thanks to years working at and running an ad agency.

My CEO knew a lot about marketing, but hadn’t had time enough to fill out his marketing department, so I found myself in the wonderful but extremely challenging job of reporting directly to the CEO as an almost-thirty-something. During the nine months that we worked together before he brought in a VP of marketing to manage me, I made tremendous strides as a marketer, but also a few horrible mistakes. I learned a lot about marketing, but maybe even more about working with CEOs.

Since then, I’ve had the luxury of working with a number of CEOs, and have learned that they’re not all cut from the same cloth – even those that came out of the same MBA program, though that’s certainly a strong indicator of style.

Booz & Company have identified four models of corporate management, and since the CEO is one of the biggest factors in corporate management decisions, they extrapolate these to four types of CEOs. I believe these four models serve as a good foundation for understanding how you, as a marketer, should approach your CEO.

The four models are:

  1. Holding Company. This CEO sees the organization as an investment company. He or she is results-driven and does not actively engage in the day-to-day operations of the business units. This CEO adds value by managing the company’s portfolio of businesses successfully, and by identifying strategic investments for the company. This model represents about 10 percent of corporations in their study. This CEO wants a real-time or near-real-time marketing dashboard of key metrics.
  2. Strategic Management. This CEO sees his or her team as the strategic leadership of a collection of related entities. He or she wants to understand what your strategic intent is for the organization, and adds value by identifying new synergies between business units. This model represents about 20 percent of corporations in their study. Beyond the marketing dashboard, this CEO wants to see quarterly marketing strategic plans.
  3. Active Management. This CEO sees the executive team as both strategists and managers, and wants to know not only what you intend to do, but how you intent to execute on your strategy. He or she works to help different business units develop a unified plan of execution of the strategic priorities set by the executive team. This model represents about 30 percent of corporations in their study. This CEO wants more than a dashboard and quarterly strategy sessions; he or she wants detailed monthly reports on the impact that marketing is having across the business.
  4. Operationally Involved. This CEO sees him or herself as a manager of managers. They are closely involved in running multiple aspects of the business, and create value by maintaining tight visibility into and control over all aspects of operations. This model represents about 40 percent of corporations in their study. This CEO will often require weekly or by-weekly check-ins, in addition to real-time monitoring and alerts of marketing KPIs.

Does your CEO fit into any of these? Does that change how you interact with him or her?



Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear is vice president of public relations for Eric Mower + Associates' Boston office, where he helps clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market. He also teaches new media and public relations at Boston University, and serves as a Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Find him on Twitter at @vanhoosear. 


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