It wasn’t long ago that “executive communication” was basically synonym—or a euphemism—for “executive speechwriting.”
No longer: As an Executive Communicator, you are constantly flexing across a vast and varied range of activities—coaching, project management, crisis solving, and researching, to name a few. Days, weeks, months and years can get so busy, it’s easy to forget the main reason you’re in this role in the first place: to create and deploy high-quality content for the leaders you serve.
Easy, but hazardous: to the corporate strategy, to the executives’ leadership and ultimately, to your job security.
Let’s define “high-quality content” for this modern moment, and figure out how to make sure you’re creating it regularly.
Content starts with strategic positioning and messaging and ultimately carries into specific deliverables like speeches, keynote presentations, blogs and articles, social media posts, talking points, and emails. In some organizations, a dedicated messaging team rolls out positioning for communicators to integrate into their work. Sometimes this work is generated by the Communications or Executive Communications functions themselves. Whatever the case, it’s important to have a strategic framework to align all content to.
This content becomes “high-quality” when it’s tightly aligned to your executive’s organizational priorities and realities, is tailored to resonate with each key audience, and is authentic to the principles and voice of the executive. This is where you can make the most impact in your role and become a trusted advisor to your executive.
Take the topic of “Sustainability” as an example. There may be corporate messaging on this topic. Your job is to align your executive’s unique angle to Sustainability. If she is running an IT function, she needs content around how she chooses vendors with the highest sustainability standards, how data centers and other infrastructure are running on the lowest emissions possible, how she’s introducing collaboration technologies that help reduce the need for travel, and the impact these efforts have on corporate Sustainability goals.
You needn’t be a subject matter expert on every topic the executive needs to communicate about. However, you must apply your communications expertise at all times to the content and know who to go to for sourcing the raw input that becomes content. To do this, here are some questions you should ask yourself in the development process:
- Who is the audience and what do they care about? You can informally poll members of the audience, especially if you already know them (like fellow employees), or do some online research. You can also ask the subject matter experts (SMEs) who have regular contact with these audiences.
- Have I enlisted the right SMEs for review and input, including the executive’s trusted advisors within their part of the business (sometimes their peers or direct reports)?
- Now that I have the right raw materials for the content, what is the altitude the executive needs to communicate at? How high-level or specific do they need to be?
- Is this clear and compelling?
- Does this sound like something the executive would think or say?
Give your executive ample time to review drafts and provide feedback to sharpen the focus and voice of the content. Provide them with context about the objectives and audience, and why you are making certain recommendations within the content. If there are several approaches that can be taken, provide 2-3 other options but be sure to make your preference known and why. As you continue to work closely together, you’ll be able to better anticipate what they want to say and how they want to say it.
For me as an Executive Communicator, there is nothing more rewarding than content resonating with key audiences and watching it proliferate externally or across the organization.
When we can make this happen, we can make a profound impact.
And when we can’t, because we’re too busy with other priorities, we have to wonder: What exactly are we achieving in the end?
A founding member of the Executive Communication Council, Kari Matalone is senior director, corporate and executive communications at Snowflake, a cloud computing-based data company. Prior to Snowflake, Kari managed executive communications for six years at Splunk, and four years at Cisco. Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., Kari attended university in Brussels, Belgium, and began her career there, before returning to the Bay Area.