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Insights from executive communicators and straight from the CEO

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February 24-25 I was in Phoenix, speaking at Building and Protecting Reputation 2010, a lively conference attended by several dozen communicators, most of them speechwriting types.

Distracted by my speaking responsibilities, I wasn’t able to compile a comprehensive conference report, but here are three tidbits you might find useful:

The executive communication professional’s first duty is to find the medium and the message that makes the speaker come off as authentic. So said PNC Financial's VP of Financial Communications, Christine Solie. She pointed out, for instance, that blogging or Tweeting may work beautifully for one exec and not at all for another … and there’s a “natural authority” that comes across when the message and the medium and the speaker come together. The key, of course, is to become a master of all the potential media—and to know your speaker as intimately as you possibly can.

Got message? Executive communication people are insatiable in their thirst for help in strategic planning. They crave structure, goals, messaging advice and criteria for accepting or declining speech requests. But though a number of sessions focused on this, most attendees left the desert still parched, partly because such planning must be done on an individual basis. And partly, it emerged during a session with master strategist Ken Askew, because they’re lacking the first building block for a powerful executive communication program: at least one speech or message piercing enough to achieve a strategic goal.

A sure way for your CEO to stand out? Talk executive compensation. Communication guru-to-the-CEOs Leslie Gaines-Ross pointed out that chief execs are out speaking again after a couple of years in hiding. They’re talking about everything except: corporate social responsibility, the hot topic of the mid-2000s (nobody wants to hear these days about nice-to-do spending) and  executive compensation and bonuses, which has never been a hot topic—but which represents a hell of an opportunity for a confident chief who’s looking for visibility.

He’s a “quant guy,” but that doesn’t mean he counts his Cheerios in the morning. Henkel Consumer Goods hosted the conference at its new HQ building, and CEO Brad Casper spoke during a luncheon session. During the Q&A, a communicator asked him how he measures the success of his strenuous communications efforts. "I know what gets measured gets done, and all that," he said. "But we're fast-moving. ... for the most part, it's qualitative. I'm a quant guy, but qualitative gives me a better feel."