Trial by Portrait: The New CEO Photo

Once upon a time, CEO portraits were meticulously staged images that corporate PR staffs gladly shared, and media outlets dutifully published.

That fairy-tale world is over. Add it to the scrap heap of other carefully crafted messages that companies can no longer control.

What’s worse, however, is the growing use of candids (like those above) to editorialize about the individuals, often shaping public opinion through the stilted caricatures.

If a picture says a thousand words, Lehman’s Dick Fuld was “evil,” Bank of America’s Ken Lewis was “angry,” and NBC’s Jeff Zucker is “shifty” and “duplicitous.”

The lesson: Beyond ribbon-cuttings and charity events, CEOs need to do a far better (and less contrived) job of communicating who they are and what they genuinely stand for before crises arise.

That may not prevent this kind of “trial by portrait,” but it would certainly provide a more three-dimensional picture for the public to evaluate.