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A Pitch From the Top

Don't save your CEO for a crisis.
COLLABORATORS Chris Malone, Susan T. Fiske
The case for the CEO pitchman
photo by Kirill Proskurin

“We’re not going to fail. We aren’t going to deliver pizzas like this. I guarantee it.”
— Patrick Doyle, president and CEO, Domino’s

“I am obsessed with the taste of Samuel Adams because beer’s not a job. Beer is my life.”
— Jim Koch, founder and chairman, the Boston Beer Company

“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”
— Frank Perdue, former president, Perdue Farms

Small-business owners are ubiquitous in their ads, for at least two good reasons: Knowing the proprietor appeals to consumers who prefer to shop locally, and being your own pitchperson is cheap. By contrast, Fortune 500 chiefs (aside from those quoted above) rarely step out from behind the curtain — fearing, perhaps, that it would be unseemly for someone who pulls down a seven-figure salary to publicly exhort money from average joes.

Midmarket CEOs can go either way. But research shows that seeking the limelight is often a good choice, if done correctly. Last year Ace Metrix, a television analytics company, found that ads featuring CEOs outperformed those that didn’t across metrics, including persuasion, watchability, relevance, attention, and desire (presumably for the product, not the pitchperson).

However, not all ads performed equally well. Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company — whose dunk in a vat of beer apparently didn’t stir up any health concerns (see below) — and John Schnatter of Papa John’s proved particularly popular. Dan Hesse of Sprint and Jim Gillespie of Coldwell Banker had viewers searching their remotes for a Snooze button.

In their new book, The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies, authors Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske write that in an environment of faceless, technology-based marketing, it is more important than ever for CEOs to step out front and humanize their brands.

“We are drawn to companies and brands that provide us with a visible leader, someone onto whose face we can project all our assumptions about the organizations they lead,” Malone and Fiske write. “Our minds crave making this connection.” CEOs should appear (and, ideally, also be) genuine, warm, competent, and interesting. Charisma isn’t necessary, and polish may be counteractive because it can make CEOs seem less trustworthy, the authors say.

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THE PLUS

It’s not enough for CEOs to be a public face for the company; they must also be a social voice. Executives want their CEOs to be active on social networks because they believe it improves their companies’ reputations, humanizes their businesses, and improves business results, according to a study by global public-relations firm Weber Shandwick. Weber Shandwick have found that CEOs “sociability” increased from 36 to 66 percent between 2010 and 2012.

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A Pitch From the Top

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