How to Write Content for the C-Suite

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China Gorman has been leading and growing businesses since 1985. As a C-level leader, she has managed large teams and set the strategy for major organizations.

She also recognizes that leaders are readers, and she’s figured out exactly what kinds of content leaders respond to the most. On her blog, she highlights the most interesting research about the changing world of work. Through her role as managing director of UNLEASH America, an event focused on the future of work, she’s working on bringing the best ideas to the busy leaders who will be in the audience.

I interviewed China to find out how content marketers can rethink their strategies on content for the C-suite.

Think About How Leaders Find Content

“No matter what great data you have, it’s not realistic to think your white paper is going out of your inbox and into a big CEO’s inbox, and that they’re going to read it,” she says. Instead, China says she trusts content that her friends and colleagues send her directly, and she thinks most executives work the same way. “The stuff they read comes from other people,” she says.

The data backs up her personal perspective. A 2015 Quartz survey of 940 executives found that most CEOs do spend time reading news online (mostly first thing in the morning) and are likely to share content they find valuable. The preferred reading and sharing platform: email.

So, how do you get to a CHRO or a CMO? “Probably not through an email blast, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn,” she says. “That targeting is off. But they would read something forwarded to them by a staff member or adviser with a personal note like, ‘Hey, Lisa, remember that conversation we had about employer branding? This is an interesting take on that.’ You have to figure out who’s going to recommend what you’ve got. Executives don’t troll around the internet, Googling ‘employee engagement.’ That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create content for them, but it means rethinking how content gets in front of them and who their trusted sources are.”

China says she doesn’t spend a ton of time searching social media for the HR surveys and reports she features on her blog. “It’s so noisy right now,” she says, pointing to social media feeds that are suddenly full of political posts. Instead, she says, she reads friends’ trusted blogs (in her case, that’s Fistful of Talent and Laurie Ruettimann, along with SHRM, WorldatWork and the companies whose boards she serves on).

Mostly, she says, the content comes to her: “For the first couple of years I was searching, but now that people know what I cover after seven years, they send me their research and reports.”

Make Your Takeaways Easy to Digest

China spends a lot of time reading through the latest research in her field. But she’s picky about what she shares. She looks for a few key components of great content, including:

  • Real, meaningful data. “If your survey pool is 100 people, I probably won’t write about it,” she says. “I’m looking for an acceptable level of research protocol.”
  • Interesting takes on the data. She’s looking for conclusions she hasn’t seen before.
  • Easy to digest. China says the best leadership content is written in a way that’s easy for someone who’s busy and overwhelmed to understand. That means avoiding overly technical or scientific language.
  • Great graphics. She says graphics are incredibly important — she’ll only share data if it has an accompanying graphic that breaks down the numbers.

Focus on Being Useful, Not on Selling

Many companies are publishing original research these days, so as a leader, China says that content can be tough to vet. “Almost everything has a company bent to it,” she says, “and if it’s too focused on selling a product, I’m probably not going to cover it.” The smell test she uses is asking “Is it marketing? Is it research? Is it an acceptable blend of the two?”

“I do think that’s something content marketers should be thinking about,” she says. “How can you make your work less salesy, and add more legitimate research and analysis? Especially as more organizations see content as a way to gain traction, and more and more research is published, you want your data and conclusions to stand out. My suggestion is to start with real research and analysis, and then you can tie it to your brand and value proposition — not the other way around.”

Lee Price is co-founder of Managing Editor. After 7 years as a content marketing consultant at Rep Cap, she started a thought leadership consultancy to help visionary leaders dig up and develop their big ideas. She's a proud University of Virginia fan, Twizzler enthusiast and feminist. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her on Twitter @leevprice.

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