CEO as Celebrity: Using Video to Harness the Corporate Spotlight

CEO as Celebrity: Using Video to Harness the Corporate Spotlight

In order to help save its reputation, Uber has made its new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, the eloquent star of its latest video advertising in a bid to rebuild trust. Uber is certainly not the first organization to employ the strategy of featuring one of their corporate leaders on-camera, and with good reason. The fact is there are a lot of similarities between business leaders and celebrities: both are in the spotlight, are scrutinized for their actions, can occasionally fall out of favor, and can serve as role models because of their visibility and esteem.

Being on camera is a way to harness the power and responsibility associated with the “celebrity” aspect of the role, and it’s important as a leader to build trust and use the spotlight wisely. Corporate leaders must be transparent and authentic, and show gravitas and charisma, so that people trust them and follow their lead.

The Kennedy–Nixon debates first proved the incredible influence of on-camera appearances. Kennedy used on-camera techniques that he learned from the film director Arthur Penn to establish a presence and connect with the audience. When you look back at the debates now, the more trustworthy candidate is obvious.

Soon after, business leaders also began to appear on camera, using the undeniable power that comes from being a recognizable public figure. In the 1980s, Chrysler was on the verge of going out of business when the maverick CEO Lee Iacocca negotiated a bail-out from Congress. Chrysler created a corporate documentary series that depicted Iacocca's no-nonsense style. The videos eventually led to Iacocca starring in several television commercials that helped turn around Chrysler's image in the public eye. The directors for these videos didn’t set up false scenarios or glorify reality. They showcased Iacocca’s true personality. And by the way, Chrysler was able to pay the government back seven years early.

Being genuine on camera is the key to a compelling delivery, and it also happens to be crucial for being a successful business leader as well. In order to be genuine, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is also often cited as one of the most important qualities for a leader to have in the business world. Being vulnerable shows others that you’re human, that you can be trusted, and makes it easier for people to engage with you and with the organization you represent.

Richard Branson is a great example of a business leader who has used video to shine a spotlight as a celebrity CEO, and has become a cultural icon as a result. The Virgin Mobile ads that feature Branson demonstrate his willingness to be vulnerable and genuine, even poking fun at himself as a means of endearing people to the Virgin brand. Thanks to his willingness to be the public face of the company, Branson has become a household name and has generated significant buzz for Virgin.

On the other side of vulnerability is preparation, another key ingredient for on-camera and business success. Even if you’re naturally the most charismatic person in the world, if you don’t prepare for your “performance,” then you risk coming across as nervous, or even overly confident. Imagine showing up to a client meeting without having a business plan or any idea of what you wanted to say. The results would be disastrous.

Mark Zuckerberg recently had arguably the biggest on-camera performance of his career when he appeared before Congress to be grilled about Facebook’s security breaches and he didn’t just show up in his usual gray t-shirt and jeans. He dressed for the occasion and practiced his responses beforehand. As a result of this showing, which was viewed as net positive by a wary public, Facebook shares jumped over five percent.

Leaders who shun being on camera do so at their own peril. Video is a powerful tool for communicating with employees and customers, and as a leader in your organization, you are the face and voice of the business. Learning how to harness the power of on-camera celebrity is simply part of the job description for corporate leaders in 2018. Tap into your inner courage and strength, come prepared, and allow yourself to be vulnerable, and you’ll soon discover that you already have what it takes to be an influential on-camera leader.