An executive communications strategy is the backbone of your brand reputation. Without one, your execs might start spouting things like ‘I don’t know what the heck we’re doing’ or ‘let’s just wing it’ – and that’s not gonna fly.
Why this matters:
An effective executive communications strategy is the foundation for setting the tone and rhythm of your business. It also helps establish your company and brand’s credibility, builds trust, and strengthens stakeholder relationships. Period.
By the numbers:
- 91% of employees believe communication issues can drag executives down (Harris).
- Companies with strong communication from their executive team are 2.5 times more likely to be considered high-performing than those with weak communication (McKinsey).
- 60% of employees want to hear more from their company’s leadership (PwC).
- Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organization when engaged with their company’s leadership (Gallup).
What is an Executive Communications Strategy?
An executive communications strategy is a plan that outlines how your executives communicate with internal and external stakeholders. It’s all about delivering key messages concisely and consistently that align with your brand’s values and goals. An effective strategy can build trust, establish credibility, and strengthen stakeholder relationships.
Whether speaking at a conference, addressing the media, presenting to the board, or posting on Linkedin, an executive communications strategy ensures that your team of executives communicates with confidence and clarity.
So, if you want your execs to communicate like a boss and avoid embarrassing moments when all eyes are watching, buckle up – we’re about to take a deep dive into five ways to up-level your executive communication strategy.
Defining the Objectives of Your Executive Communication Plan
First, you must define your objectives and understand your audience. I know, I know, it sounds boring. But trust me, it’s crucial. Forward-thinking brands invest a lot of time in this part of the process. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve or who you’re talking to, your executive communications strategy will flop like a fish out of water.
So, let’s start with your objectives. What’s the goal here? Do you want to boost employee morale, build brand equity, drive sales, create an executive influencer or just make people warm and fuzzy? Once you’ve figured that out, you can start crafting an executive communications plan aligning with those goals. And hey, if making people feel warm and fuzzy is the objective, might I suggest a few cute cat videos?
Now, onto the audience. Who are these people, and what makes them tick? Do they care more about product features, pricing, or the color of your logo? Is it the media, board members, customers, employees, or all of the above? Their needs and interests will help you tailor your message and tactics for the executive team.
And let’s be real, if your audience is all about that logo color, maybe you need to rethink your entire business model.
You can use data analytics tools or conduct surveys and focus groups to get to know your audience. But if you’re brave, you could go old-school and chat with them directly.
Crazy, right? It’s easy to do on social media. More on that later.
So, there you have it. Defining and communicating your objectives and understanding your audience are the keys to a successful executive communications strategy. And if all fails, just throw in a few cat videos and hope for the best.
Maybe it’ll go viral.
Your Executive Communications Strategy Grounded in Research
The second order of business is to use data and analytics to identify top-tier journalists and reporters in your industry. Journalists can amplify your executive’s voice and help them reach new audiences at the same time. Be it through interviews, expert quotes, or op-eds, these reporters are the gateway to increased visibility and impact.
Let’s focus on social media, where you’ll identify the top non-media influencers you want your execs to engage with. Connecting with these influential individuals can boost your top executive’s platform or team’s online presence and add credibility to their message. Collabs, video interviews, shout-outs, or general influencer engagement can create a solid network for your C-suite execs.
Embarking on the journey of topical research, you will venture deep into the core of the media landscape. Your mission is to comprehend the prevailing topics and themes journalists and reporters fervently write about, enabling you to align your executive’s message with the most relevant and timely issues. This crucial step empowers you to customize your executive presence and communication strategy to resonate with your audience’s interests and concerns.
To enhance your topical research, consider harnessing the power of social listening and text analysis tools. These two methods can help you gain valuable insights into the conversations and discussions unfolding across social media platforms, blogs, and online forums. Social brand monitoring of keywords, hashtags, and industry-related mentions, social listening can help you to identify trending topics, sentiments, and potential issues that warrant your executive’s attention.
Text analysis adds another layer of sophistication to your research. This method involves interrogating vast amounts of textual data to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and themes. Through sentiment analysis, topic modeling, and entity recognition, text analysis can pinpoint recurring keywords, phrases, and narratives that may remain concealed beneath the surface.
You can use these outputs to inform your executive communications plan.
Finally, you’ll need to document what other companies’ execs are doing—note their presence on social media, their involvement in events, media appearances, speaking engagements, and other activities that elevate their profile.
This recon will provide invaluable insights to help you craft a winning strategy for your executive communications plan.
Storytelling Enables a Successful Executive Communication Strategy
Incorporating storytelling into your executive communication strategy is a game-changer, but let’s be real – it’s not always a walk in the park. Stories are an incredibly powerful tool for engaging and inspiring your audience, and there’s data to back it up. Studies show that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone – talk about leaving an impression!
But what sets a great idea and a good story apart? Essentially, a good story has to have a compelling plot that’s easy to follow and emotionally gripping. It must also have well-developed characters, a vibrant setting, and a clear message or lesson. When these components merge, they create a powerful narrative that captivates your audience and helps them connect with your message on a deeper level.
Now, let’s talk about someone who knows how to knock storytelling out of the park: Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb. When Chesky recounts the origins of Airbnb or shares the company’s mission to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, he consistently weaves captivating narratives that seize his audience’s attention.
His stories help people comprehend and embrace the innovative vision behind Airbnb, even when it challenges the conventional norms of the hospitality industry. So, how can you be like Chesky and incorporate storytelling into your executive communication strategy?
First, nail down the key message you want to convey to the C-suite. Then, brainstorm ways to craft a story that illustrates that message in an emotionally engaging and unforgettable way. Don’t be afraid to use vivid language, sensory details, and relatable characters to bring your story to life.
But remember, authenticity is key. There’s a difference between passionate and honest execs and those who only do it because they have to. You want your storytelling to reflect your company’s values and culture, not just a marketing ploy.
Ultimately, storytelling in executive communications aims to inspire action, not just entertain. When you tell a story that connects with your audience emotionally, you can motivate them to take action in some way. So, don’t be afraid to take some risks and get creative. With a bit of practice, your execs will be storytelling pros and sharpen their executive communication skills in no time.
Executives on Social Media: The Heart of an Executive Communications Plan
Let me drop some knowledge real quick.
Your executives have to be active on social media. There is no debate about it. It’s more than just the occasional post here and there. They must be all in, posting content, engaging with their peers, and sharing industry insights.
This is important on so many levels.
It helps build their brand and establishes them as a thought leader. It also helps ladder up to the larger brand image, humanizes the leadership team, and creates a more personal connection with stakeholders and everyone else watching the company. Trust me. Everyone is watching.
So, to be effective on social media, executives must be active and engaged. It’s that simple. That means posting articles from reputable media outlets like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times and blog posts, responding to comments and messages, and sharing insights from their experience. They should also follow industry influencers and thought leaders, share their content, and ask questions to spark conversation, building trust and engagement.
But, here’s the thing – executives don’t need to be on every social media platform. It’s better to focus on a few key channels where their audience is most active. For most execs, that means LinkedIn and Twitter. These platforms are great for sharing professional insights and engaging with colleagues, peers, and the C-suite from other companies.
Now, you might be wondering – how do you prioritize which channels to focus on? Well, it all comes down to understanding your audience and where they’re most active. If your target audience is primarily on LinkedIn, then that’s where you should focus your media training efforts first. If the research shows they’re active on multiple channels, prioritize based on your preferences and strengths.
But hey, let’s keep it real – not all execs should be active on social. Use your best judgment and remember quality over quantity.
The End Game: Turning Executives into Industry Thought Leaders
Industry thought leadership could take years to make an impact.
But, with the right approach, turning executives into thought leaders can pay off big time. We’ve already discussed how executive communications can deliver business value to your brand. But we can’t forget the importance of having a clear objective and a well-defined executive communications plan that aligns with company goals.
Remembering the stat might help keep you motivated – According to Edelman, 65% of people trust technical experts more than CEOs as credible sources of information. Not only does this add to the pressure, but it’s critical that executives understand the industry and the challenges of building thought leadership. Encourage your executives to attend conferences, read industry publications, and engage with peers to stay current on the latest trends and insights. This should form the foundation of your executive communications plan.
To recap, research should always be the focal point when mapping out your exec comms plan. Start with a brand audit of all your executive’s social media channels. This research can come from anywhere in the organization or any data available. A media landscape analysis is usually my “go-to” because it gives insight into the top media outlets, audience research, and influencers driving a conversation.
But, understanding the industry alone is not enough. You must incorporate stories into your executive communication plan to establish a more personal connection with your audience. As we’ve discussed, storytelling is powerful for inspiring others to buy into your vision.
By sharing personal anecdotes and experiences with internal and external audiences, your executives can create a more relatable and compelling narrative, establishing themselves as relatable and easy to approach.
But that’s not all.
Social media needs to be an important element of the executive communication plan. According to a survey by LinkedIn, executives who share thought leadership content receive 5x more connection requests and 6x more profile views on the platform. I know that sounds tactical, but it’s important to understand how executive communications can drive larger reputational outcomes and views on LinkedIn.
It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Trust Me – Invest in Executive Communication Training
Training. Yes, the C-Suite needs training.
Stubborn executives are usually the ones that need the training the most. Granted, some may need more than others, but executive communications training must be a priority.
First, training can equip your executive team with the communication skills required to navigate this complex world with clarity and confidence. Here are a few thought starters on executive communication training to consider:
- Communication training: It seems elementary, but written and verbal communication skills must be sharpened. I might even suggest PowerPoint training. I’ve seen some C-suite decks that look like a sixth grader put it together.
- Media training: This will help executives feel confident when interviewed by the media, avoid sensitive topics and stay on message.
- Social media training: Regardless of how savvy your executives are with using social media, they will most likely make mistakes if they don’t understand how the platforms work, what to say, or what topics they should avoid publicly.
Second, skipping the step may backfire. No, it will backfire.
I don’t know how many stories I’ve read of executives mistakenly publishing information online or saying the wrong thing when being interviewed. Imagine an executive who fails to communicate effectively during a PR crisis, resulting in a social media backlash and a damaged brand reputation.
It happens all the time.
Executive Communications vs Internal Communications vs Workplace Communications
I know, it’s a lot of buzzwords.
Understanding the different types of communication is crucial–executive communication, internal communications, workplace communications… blah blah blah. While each type has unique characteristics, there are also important similarities and differences.
To recap, executive communications involve managing how, when, and why executives should engage externally, online, and offline. Executive communication is a strategic initiative because of its high value and visibility, which could have a significant impact on brand health.
Internal communication is focused on communication within the organization, between employees, departments, and management. It’s usually a one-way conversation where executives and HR teams communicate important company information to workers globally. I should add that this can get extremely complicated with a remote workforce, making it especially difficult for retailers.
Workplace communication is a relatively new term, but it’s the glue that holds teams together. The lifeblood flows between colleagues, connecting them through face-to-face interactions, emails, and instant messaging. Effective communication is essential for building relationships and fostering collaboration, whether sharing ideas, discussing a project, or simply catching up on the latest office gossip.
It’s crucial to prioritize workplace communication and use various forms like face-to-face interactions, email, and instant messaging to ensure your team is connected and working towards a common goal.