Chairman, chief executive, president — and now speaking at your next event?
Ralph W. Shrader, who heads McLean-based government contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, has several titles. Now the company is offering him up as a keynote speaker at conferences, courtesy of its new speakers bureau, meant to provide a streamlined way to book one of Booz Allen’s experts for a speaking engagement.
In a competitive environment, professional services firms — which sell the expertise and talent of their employees rather than weapons systems or information technology equipment — are seeking opportunities for their top executives to show their authority and know-how.
Booz Allen in particular has set up a formal internal system for managing speaking engagements in an effort to get out its message on how the government can thoughtfully reduce spending.
“We really very strongly believe that in this current environment of cost-cutting ... that there is a very important way that government agencies need to look at how they reduce their budgets,” Booz Allen spokesman James Fisher said. There’s a big “idea of enterprise efficiency and effectiveness ... that we want to be out there talking about.”
Though few companies offer up a chief executive so publicly, it’s not unusual for companies to find ways to disseminate their thoughts on strategy and leadership, according to Guy Ben-Ari, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’s defense-industrial initiatives group.
“Booz Allen and other organizations have a history of getting their views and their products and services out to the general public,” said Ben-Ari, citing as an example the Strategy + Business magazine, a management publication produced by New York-based Booz & Co., which was split off from Booz Allen in 2008.
Other companies submit columns and letters to newspapers, write newsletters circulated to an e-mail list or speak at think tank-sponsored conferences, Ben-Ari said.
Fisher said the idea behind Booz Allen’s speakers bureau is to coordinate the company’s speaking requests as well as to boost the number of speeches by making it easy for those seeking experts to access the right people.
While Shrader is the most prominent executive on the list, there are plenty of other bold-faced names, including Mike McConnell, a retired vice admiral who served as director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush.
Ben-Ari said it’s typically larger companies that have the necessary time and resources to pursue opportunities for their leadership to share their views.
“You can be certain that all the big defense players ... have offices dedicated to these sorts of things, whether it’s part of their [public relations] office or Washington [operations] office,” he said.
Still, Ben-Ari said companies have to ensure their written publications and speeches aren’t glorified advertising and offer objective information.
“When senior managers in these companies are invited to speak at various events ... it’s not just bad form for them to just get up and tout their wares, it’s actually bad business,” he added.