Do you know the name(s) of the leader(s) of your organization? Do you know their title(s)? Really, do you?

You’re probably rolling your eyes right now and thinking what a stupid question. You probably wouldn’t have a job if you didn’t, right?

But hands down, one of the most common inconsistencies I see in organizational communications, surprisingly, is in the way names of leadership are presented. This is especially true if a leader’s name has a shortened ‘nickname’ version, i.e., David/Dave, Margaret/Meg, Stephen/Steve, Elizabeth/Beth. Without any rhyme or reason, sometimes the name will be spelled out formally, Stephen L. Smith; othertimes, it’s Steve Smith. Why?

One of the most common inconsistencies in organizational communications is in how leadership’s names are presented.”

Organizational communications can also be inconsistent in how a leader’s title and professional degrees are presented. In one instance, Stephen L. Smith, PhD, President, will appear, while in the same publication, sometimes even on the same page, or on the same webpage, this exact same person will be referred to as President Dr. Smith or just Steve Smith, with no title or degree at all.

Who are you, really?

While a casual reading of this might seem insignificant, over time, this inconsistency starts to challenge your leader’s brand and make one wonder who he is. Is he formal or casual and laid back? Can people take him seriously? If I’m meeting him for the first time, how should I regard him?

If the way your content refers to your leader is inconsistent, how do you make decisions about how to refer to him in different contexts? How does his name appear on invitations or in press releases?

This same inconsistency can also happen with the names of major donors and other supporters of an organization.

I’m trying to avoid clutter…

It’s true that the repetition of titles, middle initials, and professional degrees adds a lot of what might seem like extra letters to a page–particularly when trim wordcounts are the goal. But know this: no matter how much time and effort we put into creating content for an entire publication or website, individual people won’t read every word. Sorry, the truth hurts sometimes.

Besides a novel, busy people tend to read content in bits and spurts, skimming for the main ideas–often only reading callout quotes, headlines, and captions and rarely the full body copy. You can’t rely on every person reading every word of your content. So if you slack on your leader’s name and title in any portion, someone will not get your leader’s full name. And if they miss it, then they miss knowing who your leader really is.

If they miss it, they miss knowing who your leader really is.

The leaders of your organization–your CEO, dean, president, chair of the board, department chair–appear in content more frequently than anyone else. Most importantly, they are the public face of an organization and take the full weight and responsibility on their shoulders. They depend on their content directors to support their image, their brand, and one of the surest ways to do that is basic: be consistent in how you refer to your leader.

My recommendation always for leadership is formal: Stephen L. Smith, PhD, President; or President Stephen L. Smith, PhD.

Your leader has worked hard to get where he is; give him the full benefit of watching his back and letting him put his best face forward in all the content created about him.

Make it stick

To ensure that every person on your content team always writes your leader’s full name, professional degree, and title, make it the top line in your Content Style Guide. To learn more about how to create a Content Style Guide, read this.