When good comms go bad: is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

What are your thoughts on this video below, leaked from NHS (HEY) Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust?

It was released to staff at the Trust to promote ‘Work-out at Work Day’ and features Chief Executive Phil Morley dressed up as superman and dancing to music. Yep, you’ve got to watch it to believe it….

**UPDATE 28/06/2013: unfortunately due to a copyright claim by the Trust the video below no longer works, you may be able to find elsewhere online**


The video has divided opinion in press, online and seemingly within the NHS Trust itself. Variously labelled as ‘insulting’ to hard-working employees and a waste of time; others meanwhile have said it’s ‘brilliant’.

Personally, I think it’s a real shame that such a well-intentioned engagement piece has backfired so badly. I think it could put off a lot of other leaders from being open to more innovative forms of communication in the future; discourage them from showing their personality and being more than just a suit and tie in an ivory tower.

I think we should congratulate someone like Phil Morley for being brave enough to try something new. It should be seen a what it is – a bit of fun to show his support for this wellbeing initiative.

But not everyone thinks that way. So, how do you balance being creative in your comms with ensuring you protect the reputation of the business you’re in? Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Here’s a few basic checks to carry out:

– Aim for fun and cool, not David Brent cringeworthyThe HEY NHS Trust video, I think, probably positioned Phil Morley more towards the latter.

– Test out your idea first: what might sound like a great idea in theory just doesn’t work in practice. Think of how it could be perceived – in this case by frontline staff who don’t have the luxury of taking time out of their day for something like this. Will everyone ‘get it’? And if it’s on a video and it’s seen externally, what then?

– Join the dots: Hmmm, multi-million pound cuts to your organisation looming? Likely to involve redundancies? Probably not the best time to be showing all the fun you’re having in the office.

– Is this the right image for your leader? Ask yourself if the person you’ll portray in the video fits the actual personality of the leader. Can they carry it off? How will this build the reputation of your leader throughout your business – particularly among staff who might not have regular face-to-face contact with your leader. If this is all they’ll see, make sure it’s the right image portrayed.

– Does this accurately reflect your workplace culture? Does your piece of comms reflect the values of your organisation? How risk-adverse is your organisation? Can you reinforce your culture through the comms, or will it undermine it?

– And finally, manage closely and trust your gut instinct: It remains to be seen how closely involved the comms team at HEY NHS Trust were in the making of this video. Phil Morley has said to the media that he was asked by his physiotherapy team to take part. Ultimately, you need to be the trusted adviser to your CEO and the one guiding the decision. Even if he/she wants to take part, it’s you who should be the one making the call on whether or not they take part. Trust your gut instinct.

And that’s the hardest part of all, weighing up all the pros and cons, staying objective and sticking to your guns. What would you have done?


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