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Brand architecture matters: When the CEO becomes a bigger brand than the organisation

It was a cold and rather dreary day and I was in a rush. I headed into the warmth of the subway between Southbank and Flinders Street Station. There were countless people inside, some on their way to catch a train, others like myself walked by quickly, using this subway to cross over into the heart of the city. The faint sound of an off-pitch busker sitting at the entrance to the subway resonated through.

I looked sideways as I adjusted to the light subway light and noticed a billboard, a face of a youthful looking, clean cut middle aged man. I recognised him instantly – it was Alex Malley. Malley’s face greeted me at various points in this subway and there he was as I walked into Flinders Street. A professional yet friendly presence. It seemed as though he was hosting a new show.

Alex Malley In Conversation

Alex Malley In Conversation

As a former Financial Accountant turned Professional Marketer, this had me thinking – ‘what will happen to CPA Australia if Alex Malley is no longer part of it?’

It was another rather cold and dreary day when I heard Malley’s contract with CPA Australia as their CEO, had been abruptly terminated.

For the past two years, CPA Australia has been facing governance issues with members raising concerns about the conduct of their CEO and the board. These issues are not uncommon and should not be viewed in isolation.

In promoting the Alex Malley brand, CPA Australia took a huge gamble on marketing risk.

When I was at University, CPA Australia was promoting itself to aspiring accountants (such as myself) as a lifestyle. Malley later came as an extension of this brand, personifying the potential of CPA accreditation, at a time when there was a high degree of job uncertainty.

Malley made the organisation appear youthful and ready to engage, however, it also shifted the focus to himself rather than the organisation. His book “The Naked CEO” focused on leadership, perseverance and Malley’s personal story.

Personally, I knew that the day would come where Malley would be removed from CPA Australia. His brand was becoming bigger than the organisation, with CPA Australia fading more and more into the background. The value of the organisation was being communicated less, with Malley’s value being promoted more.

The Naked CEO Instagram

The Naked CEO Instagram

Looking at CPA Australia’s annual reports it appears as though Malley has met most of the metrics that were set by the board. However, the marketing metrics such as increasing social media engagement and being a thought leader, do not necessarily lead to more members successfully sitting exams, which brings additional revenue to the organisation. These “feel good” metrics do not optimise revenue growth and member engagement.

These metrics also do not necessarily consider stakeholder needs, such as the needs of members and the organisations that support CPA Australia. It is often a chain of activities that ensures stakeholders are engaged, which often goes beyond social media and a charismatic CEO. It is clear that risks were not fully identified, with internal stakeholders (including members) feeling increasingly isolated by the organisation. Furthermore, strategic risks exist through the dilution of the CPA Australia’s brand and value as distinct to Alex Mally.

Ignoring the magnitude of stakeholder risk proved costly to CPA Australia, with members becoming increasingly critical of the organisation’s direction.

CPA Australia will need to reposition itself to recover from the removal of Malley. A new marketing plan and brand refresh, as well as the brand architecture of the organisation, will be required to position itself following the departure of Alex Malley.

Join us as we explore Brand, Reputation and Risk: Managing Marketing Governance in partnership with the Governance Institute of Australia on Wednesday the 26th of July 2017 in Melbourne.

Registration details available at www.synekamarketing.com.au/riskworkshop

Natalia Perera

Author Natalia Perera

Natalia is Syneka Marketing’s Innovation and Strategic Insights Director. In her role she creates out of the box solutions that enable our clients to stand out from the crowd. Natalia is detail focused, creative and business savvy. She understands how to develop content that facilitates growth, and enables our clients to succeed.

More posts by Natalia Perera

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Sarah Rey says:

    Interesting article – well written, and right on point. And a great taster for your session with the Governance Institute. Well done!

    Our news: we recently received recognition for the copywriting/content of our website from Lawyers Weekly and its readers in a competition. Positive attention which is always welcome.

    • Alex Makin says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Good to hear from you and thank you for the feedback, risk and marketing is an area that is often underdeveloped and one which we will be exploring through the Workshop at the Governance Institute. Hope to see you there, otherwise, we should arrange a time to catch up.

      Thanks,

      Alex

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