How do I get C-suite support? 4 Ways to Get CEOs Aboard

“How do I get C-suite support?”

How do I get C-suite support? 4 Ways to Get CEOs Aboard.

A marketer from Humana asked this question in our content marketing workshop. It’s one of the Top 100 Questions marketers ask about content marketing.

During my 30 years in corporate marketing and communications roles, I found 4 ways to get CEOs and the C-suite aboard with initiatives such as content marketing. Today I’ll share all 4 approaches with you.

1. Be persistent, and work through a sponsor

In a Fortune 50 company, one of my jobs was to write and produce the annual report to shareholders. The focal point of the annual report was a letter from our CEO.

The first year I wrote the annual report, I asked again and again to interview the CEO.

But in our culture, such a request was out of the question – I didn’t have the stature to land a CEO interview.

That year, I wrote the CEO’s letter without ever speaking to the CEO. My own department’s bureaucracy and pecking order blocked me. That bugged the heck out of me.

A year later, the head of our department had retired. And an acting vice president came in from outside our department. 

How can I get an interview with the CEO

In my very first meeting with him, I asked: How can I get an interview with the CEO so I can write a better letter for next year’s annual report? I asked persistently for months.

Fortunately, the acting VP, my boss’ boss, took my question seriously. He offered to broker a one-hour meeting with the CEO, himself and me.

As a low-ranking manager, I didn’t understand how rare this meeting would be or the routines worked on the executive floor. Believing I had a green light, I went straight to the CEO’s executive assistant and asked for an hour of his time, which she kindly scheduled for me.

News Travels Fast

News travels fast, even in big companies. By the time I got back downstairs to my desk, my boss was already waiting for me in my cube. “What did you do?” he asked with a pained look on his face.

Then he told me something I didn’t know. No one, not even the C-level executives, ever went directly to the CEO’s assistant.

Instead, CxOs and everyone else were expected to work their way up through two other assistants, each of whom had to give a green light to advance to the next assistant and finally to the CEO’s executive assistant. I’d skipped the first two steps.

Blissfully, I didn’t know that expectation, so I went straight to the source. Luckily, she liked me. And the meeting stayed on the CEO’s calendar.

Preparation

As a former newspaper editor and reporter, I prepared for the meeting like it was the biggest interview of my life. At the time, it was.

On the day of the meeting, the acting VP accompanied me to the CEO’s office, introduced me to the CEO, then sat silent – making no attempt whatsoever to steer the meeting. 

He let me conduct an interview that gave me everything I needed to write a great annual report letter that reflected the CEO’s personality, strategy and grit.

That interview really paid off. An annual report critic ranked our company’s annual report #3 in the world that year. (A year earlier, it was #45.)

Be Persistent

First of all, be persistent. Get help to open the doors you need opened. 

Work through your existing and new relationships – which executives have you helped who are willing to speak up for you? Is there a business unit head who would be your sponsor? The CMO? The CFO?

2. Go fast enough to break some rules

If you’re new to a company, organization or role, take advantage of not knowing all the cultural rules of the road. You’ll make a lot more headway, faster. And people forgive newbie mistakes.

As a new VP in Fortune 500 companies, I focused like a laser on my company’s strategic message. I started by helping the execs understand that our message wasn’t as good as we needed it to be. Once the C-suite was aware of the problem, they let me own it. 

I convened a big-tent workshop that included all the decision-makers, so everyone could have a say in the company’s marketing and communications. Here’s how to do big-tent workshops for content marketing. 

One thing that helps in big-tent workshops is to bring in a consultant to be your lightning rod. Let the consultant handle objections and parry attacks as you learn where the C-suite stand – so you can figure out how to get them on the same page. 

Over the years I worked with Tripp Frohlichstein, the co-inventor of Message Maps, to lead such workshops with several CEOs and their direct reports. 

Within the first hour, the executives were always surprised to find out that all of them told the company’s story somewhat differently. As a result, the company lacked one clear, consistent, compelling message to share through marketing and communications.

It’s incredibly valuable to find and lock into the right strategic message. How valuable? 

Focus Vision and InnerView Group research showed that 2 out of 3 marketers agreed that one consistent message is worth $10 million or more to the business. 

On the other hand, inconsistent messages impose a penalty on companies of $6 million or more, 2 out of 3 marketers said.

Co-creating Message Maps in big-tent workshops is one way we help you get C-suite support. 

3. Become your company’s go-to expert

Do the homework to position yourself as the expert who knows the most about customers. It’s a role that is often undefined and unfilled in big companies.

Do this by:

  • Collecting customer questions and turning them into compelling content. Here’s how.
  • Conducting buyer persona research to gain insights about what customers do when they’re out of sight. Here’s how. 
  • Learning everything about your website and email analytics – to see which topics resonate most with customers. Here’s how.

Once people see that you’re an expert on customers with insights no one else brings to them, you’re much likelier to get invited to meetings with the C-suite.

4. Always be brief, be good, be gone to get c-suite support

Later in my career, as a director and VP, I handled several CEOs in all their news media interviews, speeches, investor events, shareholder meetings and annual reports.

What I learned quickly, the hard way: never bring more than one piece of paper to any meeting with a CEO. 

It’s hard enough to get a CEO to focus for a minute – don’t distract him or her with page 2. That’s why I created templates to squeeze everything important onto one page – for example:

  • Write out your marketing mission on one page by using our template.
  • Frame your content marketing strategy on one page by using our template.
  • Capture your 7-second message by using our Message Map template.

When you embrace the discipline of fitting everything important on one page, it’s much easier to get buy-in from your executives. 

“How do I get C-suite support?” is one of marketers’ Top 100 questions on content marketing. Here are the answers.

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