Ever heard of the Gil Shwed or Benny Gaon brand?
Ten years ago, very few people in Israel knew much about Gil Shwed, the CEO and founder of Check Point Software Technologies. In recent years, however, the newspaper gossip columns have been reporting regularly on the progress of the construction of Shwed's new penthouse apartment and he stars in the lists of eligible bachelors in women's magazines.
There are more than a few businessmen in Israel who have succeeded in their fields, but most Israeli citizens are not familiar with their names. Others have gained fame beyond the business community. Shari Arison headlined in the media this past year and her personal life became public domain; many Israelis experienced Pnina Rosenblum's divorce right along with her. On the other hand, Stef Wertheimer and Zadik Bino, two other businessmen whose names are familiar to most Israelis, have kept their personal lives to themselves.
Does publicity contribute anything to the businessmen and the companies they head? Dasi Wagner, a media consultant and managing partner of the Wagner Greenstein Kitzis public relations firm, says that a CEO who is a brand name can contribute to the advancement of his company. Wagner cites the findings of Burson Marsteller, the largest PR firm in the world, which conducted a study into the "CEO Effect" - the PR charm of the CEO.
The survey found that the CEO and president of a company hold the key to the company's media capital. "Some 45 percent of a company's media capital comes from those who stand at its helm," says Wagner. "He can lower or raise a company on the media's agenda."
Eyal Arad, the owner of Arad Communications, notes that Benny Gaon is a good example of an Israeli businessman whose company's reputation was built on his personal fame. Arad explains that Gaon based the recruitment of investors in Gaon Holdings on his reputation as a businessman. This reputation was also translated into a biography about his business doctrine and his rise to fortune.
"There is also danger in aggrandizing a company's owners," says Roni Rimon, a managing partner in the Weber-Shandwick/Rimon and Cohen PR firm. "Total identification between a company and its owners exposes the company to harm if the good name of the owners is sullied."
Still, Rimon says that if a businessman is a stronger brand than the company with which he is associated, his exposure contributes to the company. One example is Pnina Rosenblum, who built her cosmetics company on her personal fame.
How then does a person become a brand? Arad cites three factors: The individual must represent something; he must be known beyond his professional field; and he must live on after his death.
Zadik Bino, for example, is perceived by the public as the symbol of banking, even 10 years after he left the First International Bank of Israel (FIBI), and he symbolizes the ability of a man who started from scratch to reach the heavens. Arad views Nochi Dankner, on the other hand, as a "brand in the making," as it is still not clear how familiar he is to the Israeli public beyond the great interest he attracted recently in connection with his acquisition of IDB Holdings.
Reuven Adler, in his role as a media consultant, has singular advice on this issue. "I would recommend to every senior businessman to avoid having his name appear anywhere in the newspaper except for the business section," he says.
Adler is first and foremost a publicist. He is one of the three owners of Adler-Chomski-Warshavsky Grey, one of the five largest advertising firms in Israel. No less important, however, is his job as advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Adler is one of the people who is closest to the prime minister, and Sharon tends to attribute great importance to his advice. Political journalists know this very well; and in recent years, Adler has become a news item in his own right, in that context.
"I would prefer for my name not to appear in the news pages," he says. "It contributes nothing to my business, and often only causes harm. I do not accept interviews, do not respond officially in the prime minister's name, and I make an effort, in general, not to cooperate with political writers, but rather only with writers who are relevant to my business field - advertising and marketing."
Wagner believes that without media exposure, a businessman cannot become a brand that is recognized beyond the business community. As an example, she cites the CEO of Partner Communications, Amikam Cohen, who is highly regarded in the business community; but since he refrains from media exposure, he is unknown to the public.
Yair Hamburger, president and CEO of Harel Investments, one of the largest companies in the Israeli insurance industry, may be well known on the Israeli capital market, but only a few would recognize him on the street.
Galia Maor and Zadik Bino are more familiar faces and are identified with the banking sector. Despite their notoriety, their personal lives are beyond the public domain.
"A company can be a very successful brand even without its CEO being a brand too," says Wagner.
Rimon opposes the personal exposure of businessmen, noting that a famous businessman will discover that the media that followed him when he needed them would not leave him alone when he chose to avoid exposure. "Personal exposure is a double-edged sword," he says, "and the media will ultimately search for something sensational in the personal life of a businessman."
Rimon differentiates between two types of personal exposure - as a means or as an end.
The Strauss family, for example, used focused personal exposure when it wanted to let the public know that the company's management had changed. When Ofra Strauss was appointed president of Strauss Elite, the family initiated newspaper articles describing the decision to transfer management to the next generation and dinner in the family's home, including the contents of the refrigerator.
When exposure is the goal, businessmen often invite journalists to their private domains and expose their personal lives, as Shari Arison did when she was photographed on her yacht and presented viewers with her partner, Ofer Glazer. Arison's exposure was designed to promote her Essence of Life project, but it mainly promoted the discussion of the couple's media life, as Arison had returned to the spotlight after years of spurning the media.
Rimon says that in order to gain the greatest exposure, it is common practice for a businessman to become involved in one of the popular sports and purchase a basketball or soccer team. He notes that Jacob Shahar's business dealings benefited greatly from his purchase of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team. Loni Herzikovich, president of Isfar Home Tech, which represents Sony and General Electric in Israel, became a household name after purchasing the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team. Sports brings exposure to a businessman without him having to expose his personal life.
When the daughter of a businessman becomes involved in her father's sports enterprises, however, it can be difficult to avoid the intrusion of the media. When Michal Zeevi, the daughter of Gad Zeevi, was appointed president of Betar Jerusalem after his purchase of the team, it did not take long before Michal's appearance on the sports pages shifted to reports on the night spots at which she had been seen, and who was accompanying her.
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