Putting the Boss in an Ad

Putting the Boss in an Ad

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

Sometimes it’s a good idea to feature a boss in an ad. Sometimes it’s not.

Two ads come to mind. One shows a plumbing company’s president seated at the head of a conference table, surrounded by a handful of employees. He is the only one looking at the camera, and they are leaning toward him, eyes fixed on a document he is holding. (Maybe it’s a flow chart showing their titles and job responsibilities.) Names are listed in the caption, and his is in bold type. The headline – too trite to mean anything to anyone who is not pictured – reads, “Leading the field.” Clearly, the underlying message is, “Look at me. I’m the boss.”

The other ad features a large, close-cropped photo of a construction CEO standing next to a pickup truck. He’s wearing a hard hat and his expression suggests that the photo was shot as he was talking. The headline is in quotes and emphasizes the fact that he is involved in all of his company’s projects – and even devotes time to travel to clients’ job sites. The body copy provides details about his commitment to make sure things are done correctly.

That’s a stark contrast, isn’t it? The first ad says, “I’m important.” The second one says, “You (the customer) are important.”

Putting bosses in ads can be tricky, because bosses are bosses. They ultimately control their companies’ ad budgets. So when you get an idea – or a request – to put the boss in an ad, things need to be handled with care. Here are some points to keep in mind.

  1. Make it relevant. A boss-testimonial has to mean something. It is about the message and the messenger. Ideally, the message should be one that can be delivered only by that specific messenger – a person who represents a big emotional investment in the business being advertised. He is in a strong position to sell benefits and strengthen the brand image. (Think of the classic Dave Thomas ads for Wendy’s.)
  1. Make it real. For this kind of ad to be effective, the photo and the copy must have the ring of authenticity. This is not the place for portrait photography; the photo’s destination is an ad, not the boardroom. The boss should be depicted in a slice-of-life setting – like the construction CEO beside the truck. She should make eye contact with the camera (and hence, the readers).

To give the right voice to the photo – and personalize the message – make the headline a quote.

  1. Keep it simple. For maximum visual impact, the photo composition should be uncluttered and the boss should be the most prominent element.

The language should be human, clear and non-corporate. It’s much better to say, “Our commitment to customer service starts at the top – with me,” than to say, “We’re committed to the relentless pursuit of best practices to better accomplish our actionable customer-facing objectives.”

Here’s a thought: What about the relentless pursuit of stronger boss-testimonial ads?


(c) Copyright 2018 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: john@johnfoust.com