The social CEO: Pernod Ricard chief Alexandre Ricard to leave his mark on social to unify corporate and consumer branding

Chief executives are turning to social media more than ever and Pernod Ricard’s is no different, with Alexandre Ricard looking to the medium to help align its corporate and consumer brands.

“Corporate brands are boring,” says the drinks maker’s communications director Olivier Cavil. “A corporate brand is as important as a marketing brand because for the 18,000 staff that work at Pernod Ricard we want them to feel happy and proud to work for the business”.

It’s one of three main reasons – communication, reputation and business results – why the marketer wants his chief executive to leave his mark in the social space at a time when business leaders are increasingly taking the lead when it comes to fronting corporate marketing. Given the importance of social transparency and direct relationships with consumers now, the business is being careful with how it manoeuvres Ricard to the fore, with initial efforts focused on Facebook and LinkedIn.

On Facebook, Pernod Ricard plans for its chief to have his own page that will push posts out to the group’s wider one, documenting moments he thinks are worth sharing or responses to pertinent news stories. “He could share a visit to a bar that he thinks is really cool but is disappointed that they don’t stock any Pernod Ricard brands. This won’t be a communications department sending messages on behalf of Alexandre, we’re really developing this and he’s the figurehead,” said Cavil.

It won’t just be one-way traffic on the social network either. Plans are underway to have Mr Ricard take part in Q&As with both employees and potential candidates. At its essence, the aim is to use the social network as a way to give him additional insights that could help him make big calls when it comes to certain strategic decisions around marketing and recruitment.

Pernod Ricard tested people's reaction to its chief online when it ran Operation #MeetAlex on LinkedIn and Twitter last month. With over 130,000 followers on LinkedIn, the company offered seven followers – one from each continent – the chance to visit its headquarters and meet Alexandre if they were able to correctly answer 10 questions about its operations. The randomly selected seven were then flown out and hosted in Paris for a few days, which culminated in them having the chance to ask the chief executive anything during an intimate chat. On the night (see below), topics ranged from Mr Ricard’s plans for specific markets to his thoughts on whether there were categories he felt the business need more of a presence.

The event was filmed and could be the first of many if Cavil thinks people like it enough – several thousand people applied to the competition, the company claimed. “This isn’t really a strategy yet,” cautioned Cavil.

“We’re just at the beginning of this shift. We were very surprised by the number of people who applied but at the end of the day, my KPI is whether people think the concept was cool and they believe it’s a chief executive wanting to interact with people rather than a communication trick. If that does happen, step two of this process will see us continue that direct relationship through Facebook and LinkedIn.”

Ricard, who has set the company’s agenda to get closer to people by tapping their digital behaviours, is part of a growing number of social chief executives. As of 2015 the number of chief executives of the world’s top 50 companies on social media is still low at 28 per cent, according to Weber Shandwick’s ‘Socialising your CEO’ audit. However, eight in 10 are now engaged online and via social media – a rate which has more than doubled since the audit started in 2010. The most popular social networks used by company bosses are LinkedIn (22 per cent) and Twitter (10 per cent), according to the study.

A stronger social media presence also chimes with Mr Ricard's bid to be a more consumer-focused business; meaning eventually it will be able to put a Pernod Ricard brand in any consumption occasion for consumers, whether it’s partying, relaxing or after-work drinks. The business has been through major structural upheaval to be leaner over the last two years as it looks to unearth new opportunities in Eastern markets where India is fast emerging as ripe for growth, while coming up with ways to overcome slow growth in the US and China.

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