CEOs reluctant to participate in public debates, even during the corona crisis

Amsterdam, July 9, 2020 – CEOs can distinguish themselves by participating in the public debate during both good and bad times. In October 2018, Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on top executives from the business community to be more visible in society and to engage more often with the public and politicians through the media. The corona crisis was an excellent opportunity to do this. Qualitative research by Omnicom Public Relations Group shows that Dutch CEOs, also during Covid-19, often avoid the public debate in talk shows on television.

Mark Rutte called on top executives to bridge the gap between, on one hand, the large Dutch business community, and on the other hand, politics and society. The Prime Minister explicitly focused on talk shows and current affairs programs for visibility and urged CEOs to also discuss social issues that have an impact on their company. Omnicom Public Relations Group’s research, “CEO communication in the public debate”, shows that top executives who responded to this call were mainly visible in newspapers and less in the public debate on television. This could be seen more often in the months immediately following his request than in the same investigation period in 2019.

Het Financieele Dagblad, Buitenhof and Op1 natural partners for CEOs
Of the studied newspapers, Het Financieele Dagblad remains the most important written medium for visibility of CEOs. In the months after Rutte’s call in 2018, this newspaper gave CEOs more than twice as much attention than De Volkskrant and almost twelve times more than NRC. In 2019, this difference narrowed over the same period. The weekly NPO interview program Buitenhof regularly interviews a CEO (in 2018 and 2019 in 33% of investigated broadcasts). This number is higher than on WNL op Zondag. During the corona crisis, in the period from mid-March to April 2020, a CEO on the talk show Op1 discussed six times the impact of Covid-19 on the company and the sector, linked to the social duty of care of the community during times of crisis.

Common interest
Both journalists and CEOs have the common goal to inform the viewer from a broad perspective about relevant developments. “In practice, we sometimes see tensions between media, politics and companies. This means that a companies’ trust and reputation are at stake if they are part of the public debate. However, the media appreciates when top executives publicly propose solutions in the broad social debate. It is also beneficial for a CEO to sketch a broader perspective in the media, rather than just his own company. Provided that it is carefully deliberated and well prepared, ”says communication consultant Marly van Bragt of Omnicom Public Relations Group.

Consumers expect more from business
Earlier research conducted by Omnicom Public Relations Group similarly showed that consumers value a broader social vision from businesses. “Not only to get to know a company better, but mainly because of the influence the business community has on solutions for social issues. It is also a challenge for business to take up the gauntlet. The corona crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement make this more relevant than ever, ”says Marjolein Rigter, director at Omnicom Public Relations Group.


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