Senior executive participation at business leadership conferences has held steady or grown since the start of the global economic crisis, according to nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of external communications professionals surveyed online by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and executive communications journal Vital Speeches of the Day.
Driving this rise in executive visibility are CEOs themselves, who consider speaking engagements prime channels for communicating thought leadership platforms (61 percent), attracting new business and cultivating customer relationships (58 percent), and defining or redefining brands (52 percent). Despite the growing demand for, and strategic value of, elite conference placement, 44 percent of professionals responsible for making these important placement decisions have no formal process for identifying the optimal placements.
"As the economy slowly recovers and companies reposition themselves for growth, executives are increasingly looking to engage more publically with key constituencies and industry peers,” says David Murray, editor of Vital Speeches. "Communications professionals who support C-suite executives are under a lot of pressure to identify the best forums and get their chiefs placed strategically and successfully.”
Weber Shandwick and Vital Speeches asked communications professionals and executive speechwriters which types of business leadership conferences their CEOs are most interested in speaking at today. The top three are (in rank order): top-tier business media events (44 percent), public policy conferences (41 percent), and business school gatherings (31 percent).
Jennifer Risi, executive vice president of Weber Shandwick’s global strategic media group and leader of the Voiceboxx suite of services that identify and position high-level executives at conferences and forums, says: "Essentially, this new data validates what we've been saying to our clients. While financial media continues to be the preferred outlet for enhancing corporate reputation by executives, the strategic use of high-level speaking opportunities is steadily becoming a close second. As engagement with external audiences grows in importance, companies need to marshal their resources and navigate the complex landscape of leadership events to secure senior management visibility and positioning.”
The survey also asked respondents to identify the one event they believe generates the most positive word-of-mouth in the global business community. The leading conference, by a wide margin, is the World Economic Forum in Davos, identified by 44 percent of communications professionals as the most buzz-worthy event.
In addition to business leadership conferences, the survey addressed the use and effectiveness of online communications for conveying C-suite messages to external audiences. The results show that online channels are not being used today as effectively as they could.
The tool most widely used to communicate externally by the C-suite is posting written messages on the company web site (66 percent). Despite its widespread usage, executive communications professionals do not regard C-level web statements to be among the three most effective ways to communicate externally. Instead, the number one most effective channel, according to respondents, is recorded video on the website, followed by live webcasts and blogs.
Among the social networking tools, Twitter is considered more effective (25 percent) than Facebook (19 percent) and LinkedIn (16 percent) for external C-suite communications. Yet Twitter is woefully under-utilized. It is reported by only 6 percent as a means that the C-suite uses to communicate now with external audiences.
Says Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist and executive communications expert Leslie Gaines-Ross, “Video is a preferred communications channel today because of its ability to viscerally humanize executives. Twitter has also has the added advantage of being immediate and customer-centric. We expect that these online channels of executive communications will grow over time as executives recognize how they complement, not replace, traditional means of communications.”