Interview with KPMG Partner, Ted Surette: What I learned about social media, personal branding and corporate thought leadership

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Tino Ho
© 2020

It all started as an experiment filming a simple video on his iPhone for his colleagues. Four years and 40 videos later, KPMG Partner Ted Surette has become somewhat of a trailblazer at KPMG as well as in the broader industry, providing insights and perspectives in a way that breaks the mold when it comes to traditional thought leadership.

His video series "Ted Talks Too" has skyrocketed his profile and delivered his insights and unique style of thought leadership into new and unexpected territories. Ted now regularly gets invited to speak at industry conferences, and his unique video series has secured him TV appearances as well as a seat in the KPMG newsroom.

Ted sat down with us recently to shares some advice for other executives looking to leverage the power of social media for executives.

From partner to thought leader: My journey using video content

Ted Surette is a world-class thought leader in the ENR sector and has been a Partner at KPMG for over 30 years. As a regular industry commentator, Ted speaks on many topics including energy transition, global power trends, and adoption of new technologies.

After attending a leadership program highlighting the value of “safe to fail” experiments, Ted decided to try his hand at video content. Although no one at KPMG had ever done something like this, the leadership team were very supportive of trying something different.  

Starting with a few videos for internal KPMG staff (and a lot of trial and error), Ted decided he needed to dial-up his efforts. He started a series of “on-location” videos, touring mines, power stations, and renewable energy plants, sharing his insights about what was happening on the ground. This was an invaluable learning experience for Ted, not only in experimenting with a new medium, but also in educating him self about what was happening in his industry.

How to strike the right balance of personal and corporate brand 

Incorporating your unique point of view with a corporate brand message, finding the right blend of opinion and branding, is important when it comes to corporate thought leadership. Ted was mindful of carefully interweaving his personal brand with KPMG’s when creating these videos.

Ted acknowledges that social media can be a polarising place, so he was particularly careful when dealing with contentious controversial issues.  While he was firm on being able to share his own views and insights (with a fact-based approach), he was always mindful of being in line with the firm’s overall position.

Shying away from social media is a missed opportunity for executives


Feeling like you have nothing of value to say is a common challenge for executives who are hesitant about using social media. Ted pushes back on this idea, pointing out that as a senior executive, you’re asked for your views and expertise all the time from clients. People want to hear your perspectives.

Feeling comfortable with social platforms was a key driver of Ted’s success. He admits to not getting it right every time, but takes a “fail fast” attitude, seeking out advice and new perspectives on how to iteratively build on his success.

Tips for busy executives for creating social media content


One of the overwhelming challenges in using social media is finding time. But if you’re creating content around topics that you feel personally attached to, the content creation process is going to be much faster.

If you’re a specialist in a particular field, chances are you live and breathe your expertise every day. Once you start thinking about social media content as simply sharing insights and learnings about your specialist field with a broader audience, it becomes much easier to create.  

Some activities are more time intensive than others so Ted’s advice is to find the medium that works best for you. While video was something Ted enjoyed and worked for the message he was trying to convey, it isn’t for everyone. But it did allow him to capture his thoughts quickly and he was able to repurpose them into different formats later.

If you’re like most executives that are time poor, and you don’t have the same level of passion as Ted, get in touch to find out how we’re helping other executives.

How I over came my personal fear of being on camera

Like many people experimenting with a new format, Ted admits to initially being worried he’d make a fool of himself on camera. Having the full support of KPMGs leadership to experiment with this kind of format certainly helped, but it was still daunting to put his face and views out on social media. He was also mindful that he was representing not only his own views but those of KPMG as well.

Ted reminds us that today’s news cycle is relatively short, something that corporates are coming to understand too. Any mis-step you make isn’t around for long, and there is always the opportunity to correct it. It was important for Ted’s confidence to have the support of the firm to experiment and try something new.

Finding your unique voice is the key to creating exceptional social content

Getting clear around who you’re going to talk to and what you’re going to say is key to creating social media content that resonates.

To uncover your voice, ask yourself what your deepest values are. What are you passionate about? What excites you? On the flip side, if you come across something you disagree with, this is the perfect area for you to be the voice of reason.

Topics you can focus on can, and will, changeover time. And it takes some time to find your natural fit. For Ted, this was largely around innovation, technology and understanding how parts of the industry were converging.

Your messaging on social media should always be guided by a carefully planned content strategy. Not sure where to start? Get in touch to find out how The Social Revolution can do it for you.

Using experimentation and feedback to improve your social media content



Ted recommends experimenting with different formats and features of your content to make it more engaging. Over the course of his 40 videos, he played around with different lengths and started integrating more complex features like branding, cutaway footage, and music.

Ted called on his colleagues to give feed back on his videos and took this on board to incrementally improve. This helped transition his videos from a simple piece to camera into a more sophisticated series of videos.

Your content strategy and supporting plan should also guide which formats to use. Get in touch call to find out how we can help you with this.  

Short, simple and punchy: How to make a video people want to watch

When it comes to video for social media, shorter is better. Remember that people are looking at this content on their commute or between tasks. 1-2 minutes of punchy, engaging video is what you should aim for.

Simplicity is the key to engagement. Focus on one topic per video and include 2-3 messages. Any more and people may lose focus.

It’s important to remember that when you’re broadcasting on social media, you’re talking to quite a diverse audience. If you’re tackling a technical topic, be careful of how much detail you go into or risk losing your audience.

3 things executives need to know about social media before starting


Ted’s advice for other executives looking to make a start with social media is threefold:

1. Find your voice. Where do you believe you have something to say? Where can you articulate a point of view? Where can you engage with a broader group on that topic? Once you’ve found that area, start experimenting with different content formats. A good starting point is written thought leadership articles which might progress into videos or podcasts.

2. Be consistent. Executives would be remiss to view this as a one-off thing. People who follow a regular cadence of content creation often dowell in this area.

3. Be authentic. Share insights with your network, don't just re-share something without reading it. Add your highlights or a personal take on it to build on the value of the content.

The Social Revolution creates peer to peer marketing solutions for executives across the FSI and enterprise software sector. Get in touch for a confidential chat to see how we can help you succeed on social media.

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