The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer recently reported that, with trust in societal leaders plummeting, CEOs should step in to offer guidance and direction to their stakeholders.

Rather than waiting for governments to impose change, 66% of respondents felt that CEOs were best placed to take the lead. Similarly, a massive 86% said they believed CEOs should lead the charge, by publicly speaking out about topics ranging from the pandemic and job automation, to societal issues and local comminity issues.

Establishing and cultivating a profile as a vocal, credible thought-leader is increasingly a role embraced by C-suite execs. Marketers can work closely with their CEO to build a strategy that remains authentic to the CEO’s views and expertise, while aligning with the company’s core values.

The benefits of thought leadership

Thought leadership involves the development and sharing of opinions that challenge the status quo and drive greater innovation. By engaging in thought leadership, CEOs can become visible figureheads for their companies, driving organisational (and even societal) change, industry best practice, and help set the news agenda. This, in turn, can bring greater business opportunities. As Carl Arntzen, CEO of Worcester Bosch explains, “People like to relate to an individual, not a whole company. As the voice and image of Worcester Bosch, it’s part of my job to put out the correct values and promote the culture and messaging we are developing.”

Ways to get a message across

This can take many forms, from speaking at conferences to doing media outreach and writing regular LinkedIn or blog posts, to carrying out research and publishing white papers.

The top external activities that senior executives feel their CEOs should be involved in are:

  1. Speaking at industry conferences.
  2. Being accessible to the news media.
  3. Being visible on the company website.
  4. Sharing new insights and trends with the public.
  5. Being active in their local communities.
  6. Taking a position on issues that affect society at large.

Aligning with your CEO’s preferences

The tactics you choose largely depends on your CEO’s preferences, your audience, and your message. Richard Branson, for example, regularly updates followers via LinkedIn and his blog. Meanwhile, Kimberley Bryant, CEO of Black Girls Code regularly gives media interviews about her experience in teaching programming to black girls who are underrepresented in technology careers.

A persona exercise can help to identify what formats will work best for your CEO. Is your CEO an academic, an innovator, or a creative? What do they feel passionate about and what’s their vision? Are they casual or formal, bold or reserved?

Being authentic

Whatever you decide, make sure your efforts are authentic. Choose topics and content formats that your CEO feels passionate about. This will make your CEO’s messages unique in the market, giving others a contribution that’s more valuable.

At the start of the global lockdown, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, gained many followers thanks to a long, authentic Twitter thread that shed light on being the CEO of Slack in the time of Coronavirus. It proved so successful because it was honest and offered a view that only he could share, in a timely way.

Not a sprint

It’s worth remembering that thought leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Building an engaged audience, along with credibility and visibility takes time and effort. By consistently sharing your CEO’s views and experience, the followers – and revenue – will eventually follow.

To discuss how your marketing plans can be supported by the Henley Group, get in touch with our team today:


The Henley Group is a B2B integrated communications agency, based in Henley-on-Thames, UK. We specialise in public relations, content marketing, corporate communications and strategic consulting for clients in the UK and overseas. We advise, plan, produce and deliver engaging communication programmes for clients across a range of B2B sectors.