Why it’s not OK for a CEO to be rude to anyone

It’s the kind of thing that most PR professionals have nightmares about. While clients can often feel aggrieved when they receive negative coverage, if they actually decide to attack the journalist responsible in a public forum such as Twitter, you have a disaster on your hands.

So, like most of the rest of the people working in PR and comms, we at Clarity found ourselves collectively wincing when Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes told a Bloomberg journalist – albeit in code – to ‘eat dick’.

While we will cover crisis communications in another post, here we want to discuss the dangers of brands and brand representatives conducting themselves in this crass and arrogant manner.

Rather than telling people to eat dick, you should probably be living by the mantra “don’t be a dick”. Not to the press, not to the people you work with, not to the people who work for you.

Another example of a CEO not remembering this important advice came to light this week with Uber’s Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver. Whether or not this driver can be called an ‘employee’ of Kalanick is still open to debate, but the point is the same – his behaviour was damaging for the Uber brand.

I’ve heard it argued that to get to the top, you need to have a ruthless edge. While this may be the case, this isn’t an excuse to treat people badly. Being difficult isn’t a good quality to have – while it is fine to challenge people and encourage them to work hard, it isn’t OK to shout at, bully or harass them.

Some may point to people who are notoriously difficult characters – take Steve Jobs for example – and their success as a reason for acting in this manner. This is not a valid argument. From a PR and comms perspective, a brand will win few fans and even fewer customers by having a notoriously tetchy CEO.

It’s especially galling to see CEOs of startups that haven’t yet met the criteria for what could be called a “successful” business – customers, revenues, growth, profit and the like – adopting an attitude of superiority over the people they hire and contractors they engage. At this early stage of a business, reputation is all – so ensure that your behaviour is spotless and make as many friends as you can.

If others genuinely like you and enjoy working with you, they will do everything that they can to help you succeed. If they feel like you are treating them unfairly then they will do everything they can to get you out of their hair as quickly as possible – and this won’t lead to high-quality work. This applies to your PA as much as it applies to your PR agency.

In my experience, a CEO who is willing to treat everyone as an equal with something to contribute, offer constructive feedback and is acutely aware of their own strengths and weaknesses is a joy to work with. Those who don’t trust others, consider themselves to be more intelligent and capable, and belittle those around them are an absolute nightmare.

And if those in the media like you as a person, they’ll be much more willing to engage with you. In the case of Holmes they’d be more open to an honest conversation as to why they wrote what they wrote. If, however, you treat them like dirt, they will be less likely to engage with you, and cite your arrogance as a reason to cover you negatively.

Holmes’ tweet was a story that made it to a number of different publications, none of them that reflected well on the company. The Bloomberg article he objected to, that quibbled over the valuation of Hootsuite, could have been politely and effectively refuted by a good PR team. As it was, though, Holmes left his PR department with a massive headache and lost a great deal of goodwill from all those who work with him.


by Ben Camm-Jones

Why it’s not OK for a CEO to be rude to anyone
Share this post

Join the conversation