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Posted on 10.17.2013

Communicating for the C-Suite: How to write for the CEO

Want to write something fresh for the CEO? Scratching your head over how to make the CFO seem more multi-dimensional? Tired of having legal eviscerate your press releases?

Communicating for the C-suite can be challenging. Corner offices tend to be populated by strong minded, fast thinking, hard driving professionals who don't have a lot of time for rewrites or coming up with just the right word.

That's our jobs as professional communicators. But it doesn't take many emails from the C-suite to realize there is a big difference between writing well and writing well for a particular person.

I hope to do several posts in the coming weeks looking at how to communicate for the C-suite, which can be a place of very varied personalities and tastes. We'll start with the CEO.

First, it's important to consider the person in the corner office - and the character as well. Typically, chief executives are the visionary of the organization: proactive thinkers and, often, charismatic entrepreneurs. Consider what your CEO is like as a person and a professional, and seek to understand his or her voice and priorities.

Next, think about their main audiences. This can be tricky, because chief executives are often the face of the organization and the lead spokesperson to many - if not most - stakeholders. Focusing on a CEO's main external audiences, you'll likely want to consider customers (not necessarily end users), investors, competitors and media on the list; for CEOs of publicly traded companies, add analysts, shareholders, regulators and the financial media.

Lastly, consider the primary concerns for a chief executive and you'll have the topics about which he or she will most need to communicate. (And if a topic is not a primary concern, consider if the CEO should speak to it all: CEOs are strategists, so keep their communications well above mundane tactical matters). Company heads are generally focused on "big picture" matters like growth, strategic opportunity and performance. And more so than others in the executive suite, they are sensitive to reputation and perception issues, and often more attentive to the company's relationships and strategic partners.

On the quirky side, that focus on relationships can sometimes make CEOs the more emotional members of the executive team. Unlike the uber-analytical CFO or legalistic general counsel, CEOs often approach their jobs more personally and can be sensitive to criticism. They are prone to middle of the night revelations (and emails) and are more likely to be hurt (or infuriated) by a headline they find disagreeable.

So if the phone rings at 5:30am with a last minute edit to a press release, just remember: writing for a chief executive is an honor. It provides the professional communicator an opportunity to see into the mastermind behind a company, and it allows you to contribute at a very high level. But never try to make them fit your style or voice. Approach your writing assignment for a CEO with his or her personality, concerns and audiences in mind, and you'll find yourself on the way to a fantastic final piece.    


Rosemary Plorin is President of Lovell Communications.  You can view more of her blog posts here. Connect with her at rosemary@lovell.com or @plorin.  

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