What is the impact of a rock star CEO on a company’s brand?

In PR circles we talk about the importance of building executive profiles and visibility.  Leaders who are in the news can serve as ambassors for the company brand; and their visibility can advance the goals of the business.

But let’s take this idea to an absurd extreme, where one exec, say the CEO, singularly emblemizes the company while dominating headlines and living rent free in our minds. Further, the exec is controversial, a loose cannon. Is their high profile a good thing?

Most who long for that kind of fame (e.g., startups and their founders) might answer a resounding “Yes!!” After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

An article I read counters that notion. In “What’s Wrong with Tesla,” CNN Senior Writer Peter Valdez-Dapena covered the state of the EV business amidst recent troubles at Tesla.

While some have said that the EV business is struggling, the CNN piece argued that it’s not the EV business overall that is off but Tesla’s; and its ills may well be tied to the declining reputation of Elon Musk.

The article cited survey data from Danish branding and reputation firm Caliber:

Tesla’s reputation and customer purchase consideration for its vehicles fell sharply starting around the beginning 2022 — the year Musk took over the social media platform originally called Twitter — and have continued to decline since then… While Caliber’s data doesn’t make firm connections to specific causes, the company’s reseach also uncovered low opinions of Musk, himself.


Musk and Tesla are, by far, much more closely connected in public perception than most CEOs and the companies they run.

Søren Holm, head of client services for Caliber

I found the topic fascinating, so I reached out to the company and had a nice chat with their CEO, Shahar Silbershatz. He told me more about Caliber’s work, and pointed me to another study that’s documented in their recent blog post: In Tech we Trust?

The survey provided insight into the reputations of 12 big techs and their CEOs or founders and tackled key questions such as:

  • Can Americans connect the CEO with their respective company?
  • Relative reputations of companies vs. their leaders. 
  • Attitudes about tech leaders by the respondent’s political party affiliation.
  • Which tech companies are most (and least) trusted? 
  • What’s driving or dragging down the reputation of the tech sector?

It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend that you check it out.

I am glad to say that Shahar agreed to be a guest on PR, Done & Doner, stay tuned for an upcoming episode.

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