May 23, 2022
It’s Time To Rethink Your Executive Communications Platform. Here’s How.
Just because a senior executive has something to say doesn’t mean a news outlet will run it. Depending on the content and intended audience, an external publication might not even be the best medium for the message.
In fact, publishing directly through owned channels like LinkedIn’s new newsletter function or a company website might be better for reaching particular targets and achieving an organization’s specific goals – especially if the work is part of a broader, owned executive communications platform.
Here’s an example: a professional services firm wants to spotlight a new internal initiative – say, a flexible work-from-home policy. A mention in a trade publication’s roundup story isn’t enough to affect employee perception of the new policy or use it as a recruiting tool. Maybe the CEO could write an op-ed on it?
That’s one option, but there are some questions to ask before moving forward:
- Is your company reputable enough in this area to merit attention from your ideal outlet?
- Is your work-from-home policy truly unique?
- Can your CEO extrapolate a unique POV or actionable guidance for others from the policy?
- Do the benefits of filtering the message in a way even a small trade publication might require outweigh the benefits of speaking specifically, personally, and directly to those you want to reach, i.e. new and existing talent?
There are no one-size-fits-all answers. But as executives face mounting pressure to speak up on a range of issues – and with trust in business now greater than trust in government and media – how and where they develop their communications has taken on greater importance. An owned channel, be it a company blog, email or alert, or LinkedIn newsletter, may be the most effective (if not the only) path forward.
Why should executives consider owned channels?
Over the past two years the public has increasingly looked to executives to speak out on topics from social justice to COVID-19 to climate change. An individual leader’s beliefs and values – once seen as largely irrelevant in the professional realm – now factor into how people decide what brands to buy and advocate for, where they choose to work, and which companies they invest in.
At the same time, people’s trust in media and government has declined at an alarming rate. While earned media placements still confer genuine credibility for most professional services executives, they shouldn’t ignore the growing trust people – especially their own employees – are placing in companies and business leaders. In fact, communications received directly from one’s employer are viewed as more believable and trustworthy than those from government and media reports.
Depending on the topic and audience, owned channels can also deliver high-quality engagement. As my colleague recently wrote, they can give executives a straight line to certain audiences and even help lead to earned media opportunities. And while your own channel might not be The New York Times, well-executed owned content can yield powerful metrics: the top posts shared by C-level executives on LinkedIn generated over 33,000 views of their profile, over 2,000 new connections, and 16,000 views on the company’s job page.
When should executives consider owned media?
Deciding which medium is right for your message depends on your target audience, topic and point of view.
For instance, nine times out of 10 it will be easier to place an article with a unique point of view and/or useful guidance about a new regulation or litigation trend than to place the example we started this piece with: an executive discussing a company’s new work-from-home policy.
But if the topic is more personal and/or promotional, and the primary audience is new and prospective employees, an owned channel can be a great option. Some cases where it might be useful to consider this route:
- Establishing a new leader’s voice and authority. A leadership change is a natural time to want to showcase an executive’s personality, values and vision for the future of their company. In this case, a feature story, Q&A, or byline in a leading industry trade can be a real win – but it’s not the only option. An owned executive communications strategy could allow executives to speak more authentically, clearly and directly, while creating a consistent channel to share their thoughts and highlight those of others.
- Connecting with existing and prospective talent. Amid the Great Resignation, it’s increasingly important that executives find ways to become a destination for their industry’s top talent. In an age where work is personal, executives’ communications can and should be, too. Sharing stories that compellingly showcase your firm’s culture, community investment, benefits programs and values may not be worthy of an op-ed in an outside publication, but it will show up when prospective employees search your website and LinkedIn page.
- Commenting on social issues and demonstrating community engagement. Executives looking to get out there on big topics of the day can use blogs and other owned platforms to speak out and demonstrate how firms are taking action in their communities and within their own organizations. Owned channels allow executives to control their messaging around sensitive topics and highlight initiatives (e.g., a charitable giving or pro bono effort) that might not otherwise get media attention.
- Demonstrating leadership skills. Many executives write on leadership and management topics in business and industry publications. But not all leaders have the credentials, time, or perspectives that would enable them to do so successfully. An owned channel can help executives articulate what makes a good leader and demonstrate to their stakeholders that they’re up to date on current trends. If done well, such content can could even serve as the foundation for future earned media opportunities.
What makes for good executive communications on owned channels?
At Greentarget, we talk a lot about establishing positions of authority and finding a unique point of view. While those aspects certainly apply to executive communications, owned platforms allow for other elements to shine through: personality, authenticity, humanity, and honesty (not to mention they can also be more genuinely self-promotional).
Richard Branson comes to mind here for a reason. One look at his blog and you feel it immediately captures his fun, adventurous, encouraging, philanthropic spirit. His personality suffuses the words and images on the site, and, of course, the broader Virgin brand.
While not everyone can be a Richard Branson, each leader has a singular life story on which to draw. In 2020, for instance, Guru Gowrappan, then CEO at Yahoo/Verizon Media, wrote about his experiences voting for the first time in U.S. elections as a way into discussing the importance of factual and trusted information – and to highlight how the company’s content provides that for people. Sometimes, an owned platform empowers leaders to shine the light on others, too. Mark Baer, CEO at Crowe, used a post about the firm’s Crowe Gives Back campaign to spotlight the specific charitable and volunteer activities of employees throughout the firm.
Ideally, the best owned executive communications combine these elements with those of good authority positioning to offer personable content that demonstrates a unique and useful point of view. Scan LinkedIn’s Top Voices for Management & Culture, and you’ll find the list filled with (seemingly) counterintuitive headlines that go on to provide useful guidance, including the co-founder of software developer Aha! talking about why he “will never hire another salesperson” and corporate strategist Molly Moseley using Tesla’s lateness policy (“How to get fired in 9 minutes” reads the headline) as an entrée into guidance on how HR teams can build loyalty among employees.
Want to learn more about developing an owned executive communications platform to support goals and values? Let’s talk.