By Reva Seth, Senior Advisor
Customers, investors and partners overwhelmingly do business with the people they know, are inspired by and have earned their trust over time. Executive communications programs remain a top way for organizations to achieve this. However, the meaning and “look” of them have radically changed in recent years.
Historically, you could get away with the executive team acting as “bullhorns” for company news, pushing product-level messaging and jargon-filled communications and a distinctly corporate voice. In 2023, this approach won’t work; worse, it can severely damage the brand and company positioning.
The events of the past few years permanently disrupted both leadership approaches and expectations. Customers, investors, talent and teams now expect more open, accessible and conversational communications and real thought leadership.
Executive Communications, Now & Future State
This requires leaders to weave their voice, areas of expertise and industry perspective into the company’s narrative and mission. These anecdotes, personalized reflections and insights bring the pillars of the organization’s brand strategy to life.
It’s a time- and work-intensive on taking at the outset. The way we approach it at SHIFT is by starting with insights — company, competitor, industry, and media analysis to ID ownable whitespace. From there, we build a unique thought leadership narrative that has relevance in the cultural landscape. Then we work with the leadership team to activate the story in a way that works for them, including distilling POV on critical issues, identifying an observed step-change in (industry-specific) behavior and pressure points, refining authentic voice, and creating a regular cadence of insights and content that are on-message and imprinted with the unique experiences of the leader.
The program planning is critical because it takes a calendar of content and genuine commentary to enable executives to grow their profile while reinforcing a consistent narrative and set of themes.
Thought Leadership Channel Strategy
Like most everything else in communications today, executive communications need to be multichannel. There are many places for leaders to create engagement, build influence and create inspiration.
- Internal communications are key.
- Earned media is incredibly powerful, with built-in validation from reporters/publications and broad (or targeted) reach. It’s no longer just print, online and broadcast media, but also podcasts, newsletters/Substacks, influencers and other new media formats.
- Social media is one of the most readily available platforms for executives to share thought leadership consistently and directly, without reliance on press. Because there’s no hard and fast formula where executive thought leadership and social media strategy meet, every leader can develop a unique approach. LinkedIn remains the most effective for executive thought leadership, especially B2B but B2C, too as it remains the only real platform to connect with talent, potential partners and clients consistently.
- Paid media has a place, too. It’s not so much in the sense of ads or boosted social posts, but more so in high-quality contributed content (think: Forbes, Inc. and Fast Company “Councils”).
Ultimately, executive communications and thought leadership is the chance to drive the brand narrative in a way that connects with multiple audiences and stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, partners) by showing up in the places they frequent and blending personal stories and passions with corporate and professional priorities to engage in an authentic and influential dialogue.
The result is a positive and direct impact on talent recruitment, team engagement and trust (invaluable in economic uncertainty and crisis because it enables social license to explain big decisions and exciting news and engage community in a two-way dialogue). It also has a direct link to business development. More than half of decision-makers say that executives’ thought leadership on LinkedIn is one crucial way they vet organizations. 57% say thought leadership directly led to awarding business. Over 45% say it led them to invite a previously unconsidered company to bid on a project.
To get started on a thought leadership-driven executive communications strategy, check out more on how we create successful thought leadership as well as our framework for how to build a compelling executive social media presence (and six CEOs doing so successfully).
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