Recently, my colleague Ann Pinkerton wrote about CEO Star Power and how a great personality or compelling back story can be a great asset in generating attention from reporters. Another aspect of this issue is what to do when the back story is not necessarily a positive one.
Very few, if any, successful executives have batted 1.000 over the course of their entire careers. While PR teams need to tread carefully, some of the most engaging stories are born from past missteps and the lessons learned. It takes a certain amount of humility from the executive, and thoughtful strategizing to take advantage of these situations, but the payoff can be huge.
This is especially true for leaders of large companies who can be painted as cold or bland. Instead of talking about “what it means to be a leader,” executives should talk about the mistakes that they have made that helped them develop into leaders. These stories can not only help the executives soften and humanize their personal image, but they can also help enhance perceptions of the brands they run.
A great example of such a story is a recent profile in Inc. magazine of TrueCar founder Scott Painter. The story combines Painter’s personal transformation into a better person with the transformation of his company. It reads more like a short story than a promotional piece—and that’s the key. At times the picture of Painter is less than flattering, to say the least. He upsets the industry, ruins personal relationships and risks losing everything. That, however, is what makes the turnaround he and the company experience so powerful.
Again, this isn’t always easy and isn’t something that should be entered into lightly. Egos can be bruised and some will interpret discussion of anything less than complete success as weakness. However, if agency and client can work through these obstacles and have a clear view of the goal, these tough stories will make a lasting and highly positive outcome.