by Martha Heller

Four Steps to CIO Celebrity and Fame

Dec 01, 20065 mins

You’re doing a bang-up job at work. With your data consolidation project and new sourcing strategy, you’ve reduced operating expenses by 40 percent, and your new PMO has put smiles on the faces of all of your colleagues. It’s only a matter of time before your fabulousness becomes known and recruiters start calling with your next dream job. (If you believe that, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.)

The fact is, like most rewards, industry recognition takes some hard work. Yes, if you are the CIO of GM or Dell, recruiters know your name, and magazines, newspapers and conference organizers are beating a path to your door. But if your company is not a household name, you need to take a proactive approach to making a splash.

I spoke to four CIOs who take the concept of strategic self-publicity to heart, and together we have developed four simple steps to worldwide recognition.

1. Branding. Before you can get your name out there, you need to have a clear understanding of just what that name represents. Are you great with customers, a terrific leader, an architecture guru, a manufacturing expert? Knowing your brand will allow you to project attributes that are richer and more powerful than those associated merely with your job.

Last December, Michael Iacona decided he was ready to raise his visibility within his industry. But first the CIO of TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications thought about what he wanted his name to connote. To focus his thinking, he went through an exercise to identify his personal brand.

Iacona sent a survey to his peers, colleagues and even people he had just met to determine the impression he makes. A sample question: If he were a car, what kind would he be?

From the survey results, he learned which five brand attributes best describe him and used them to develop a one-page summary, a personal mission statement and a webpage to advertise it. “This is not about creating an image of who you want to be, but identifying the unique value that you bring,” says Iacona. But just like running IT, building your brand is not a onetime project. “This is not something you do once and are done,” he says. “Over time, you need to continue to build and nurture your brand.”

2. Networking. With your brand in hand, you can nearly see your name up in lights. Well, take a breath; it might make sense to start networking first. This lets you test out your brand, hone it while the stakes are low and meet people who can connect you to relevant editors and conference organizers. “Networking is not just hit or miss,” says Sheleen Quish, former CIO of U.S. Can and current CIO-at-Large of Box9 Consulting™. “You need a great address book and a plan for growing it. I spend at least 30 minutes a day adding new contacts to my list.”

3. Writing. A time-tested way of garnering attention is to write for a technology or business trade magazine. In 1992, Greg Smith, now CIO of World Wildlife Fund and author of Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO, decided to get published. He was in corporate financial systems at Sallie Mae at the time and had completed a cutting-edge technology project. He wrote an article about it and submitted it to LAN Times. The editors teased it on their cover, which led to speaking engagements, more articles, a book and book signings.

Smith’s advice: “Take a shot, write an article and submit it to a bunch of publications. Start with a controversial idea and make sure you include practical advice. You want to give readers at least one memorable idea when they walk away.”

4. Speaking. For many CIOs, few things are less appealing than appearing before an audience. But it’s one of the most effective ways to get known. “Start by tapping into MBA and executive education programs,” says Mary Finlay, deputy CIO of Partners HealthCare System and a frequent speaker at industry events. “They are always looking for guest speakers. Also, if you are in organizations, like SIM, you can offer to speak at their events. But reference your membership as you reach out to other events. Conference directors often want to hear from someone who represents an organization.”

Once you get the gig, customize your presentation to the audience’s expectations, test it for delivery and timing, and connect with your audience. If they like you, word will spread, and you’ll be a regular on the speaker circuit.

So, there you have it: You’re branded, networked, in print and on stage. Your worries are over, right? Not necessarily, cautions Quish: “Don’t blow your 15 minutes of fame all at one time. If you get too much exposure, you can become like stale bread.”

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at the Z Resource Group, an executive recruiting firm is based in Boston. Reach her at mheller¿@¿