Marcus Sheridan wrote an ever green post this week that content marketing success often hinges on management involvement.
“If your company CEO and/or management team do not fully embrace content marketing, your efforts to find massive success online and have a cultural transformation will very likely fail.” – @TheSalesLion
He’s right of course, active leadership in many cases personifies a brand. Personification makes brands more likeable.
Big companies personify their brands all the time: Progressive has Flo, Allstate has Dean Winters, GEICO has a gecko. The little green guy talks like a person, walks like a person, and complains about coffee like a person.
I’d point out too that these personalities are examples of integrated campaigns where paid media leads to earned media as well: Who is Flo? Is she getting more progressive? Is Flo going anywhere? Is Flo social? Yes. You can find Flo on Twitter.
These are invented personalities and different approach than a corporate personality — that is the personality within. Think Bill Gates, and later Steve Ballmer, at Microsoft. Microsoft has experimented too — like when it hired one of it’s toughest critics in Robert Scoble.
Of course, these companies are bellwethers, with billions of dollars in market capitalization and deep marketing pockets. Though they’ve worked hard to get to where they are today, the blog posts and media coverage come a little easier by virtue of their position.
It’s a lot harder for smaller companies, but it can be earned. Earned. We know that socially engaged CEOs can make a remarkable difference, but they don’t have to be a celebrity CEO to capture a little bit of the Steve Jobs effect.
Larger than Life
I once worked for a start-up company with about $30 million in revenue. The CEO, a hard charging and brilliant woman, in many ways personified the brand. She’d be the first person to book a ticket to a meeting to close a sales deal, and was easily accessible to any media. A quick interview by cell phone was always easy.
She didn’t write articles per se, but she’d belt out a big-thinker’s email, or give you her thoughts in a 20 minute meeting. A PR pro, or a content writer, could polish those thoughts into compelling and visionary content for blog posts and contributed articles. As a result, in part, the company had a perception that it was much bigger than it actually was — and that had an influence on sales.
Throughout the years, there are perhaps four typical objections I’ve seen when the concept is broached:
- Time. As Marcus says in his post, “There is never enough time.” Leaders will always be busy.
- Confidence. Sometimes leaders are better at speaking but lack confidence in their writing ability.
- Perception by peers. This is related to confidence, but executives tend to be very conscious about what their peers in other companies might think of a post.
- Headline fear. You never know when a blog post might lead to a headline, so if you say something controversial, the media might latch onto that soundbite and make it a headline — and that will frame the story very differently. Whether the perception is true or not is another story — the fear is real.
Techniques for Eliciting Ideas
What we really need are ideas — not their writing — although self-publishers are certainly welcomed! So what are some techniques for getting leaders involved?
- Schedule Meetings. Schedule regular meetings — this could be monthly or quarterly. Attend those meetings with a specific topic in mind. The goal here is to simply get the executive thinking, and more importantly talking. You take notes. It takes ideas to make ideas.
- Sit in on Someone Else’s Meeting. I’m not a big fan of meetings. Too often they are unstructured, scheduled too frequently and wind up with a long list of topics that get tabled…for another meeting. Circular thinking. But if you want to open up doors to new ideas — sit in quietly on another team’s meeting. Put your reporter hat on and look for the story.
- Electronic brainstorm. Start a program where you email a question to a handful of executives once a month. Everyone “replies all” with their answers which will spur more conversations. You could use tools like a private community on Google+, or a document on Google Drive and there’s plenty of other tools for collaboration. Kona is a good example. The idea here is an informal means to capture the ideas of senior leadership.
- Moderate your own panel. Set up a quarterly panel with leaders, that’s private. This could be done in person or using Google Hangouts. Develop a list of questions and moderate the discussion. What’s nice is that the video record can be kept private, but it’s a resource you can refer back to for ideas in the future.
- Look beyond top management. In larger companies, the C-Suite may be less accessible, but there’s usually another layer of management — say the vice president level — that will have all sorts of ideas. Spark up a conversation in the break room, the locker room, or in a hallway. Schedule time to meet for 20 minutes with a different leader every month. Bring your notebook.
Most PR people don’t have a challenge writing — the challenge is getting good ideas. One way I’ve found to generate a long list of ideas from within the organization is to talk to as many people as I can. When you end up with a good piece of content, that’s either written in their name, or cites them, you’ll begin to see your recruiting efforts for content generation ideas will have more pull and less push.
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