How to Win With Executive Content
Jaakko Tapaninen
Jan 23, 2020

The rise of search and social media turned the media landscape into an impenetrable jungle and destroyed the business model for legacy media. Today people follow – and get their news and ideas – from people. They are also allergic to anything that is pushed on them, instead they go after content at their own will (or at what they think is their will). Anyone or anything wanting to be noticed in this world has to turn himself, herself or itself into a phenomenon and a medium.

Maybe the only traditional publishing segment that has successfully been able to buck this trend has been business media. People still subscribe to business papers, magazines and channels, on paper or online, and many companies providing financial information remain healthy. It makes sense that this is so. The subscription is paid by the employer and the price is nothing compared to the possible upside of knowing a crucial piece of news. And then there is all that time saved when someone edits the world for you and lets you focus on the important stuff. The efficiency gains of following legacy media are maybe even more significant than ever before.

Does all this mean that business leaders can still rely on their PR departments and trade papers when they have something to say and that they do not have to get dirty and expose themselves in a blog post, podcast or on social media? Well, I guess some corporate leaders still can (although today anybody without a social media footprint is considered a bit weird). But I’d rather look at it as an insanely lucrative opportunity to talk directly to the people that matter to your business, about things that matter. These days everything is personal, also business.

“These days everything is personal, also business.

A chief executive of just about any organization has an automatic audience. After a potential client, partner, employee or investor has learned about a company and its product, they want to know who runs it and with what sort of ideas. If these thoughts are easily accessible and if they are any good, search engines rank them, people find them and the CEO becomes the company’s most important medium. And if he does it really well, he becomes a leading source in the industry.

This does not mean that the CEO can forget about legacy media, but since he brings his own audience along every time he is interviewed, he is usually much more interesting than someone with no digital following. Instead of dodging and fearing traditional media, a smart CEO cooperates with it and complements it.

Why chief executive? Couldn’t it be any other C-level person, any expert, maybe everybody in the organization? I’m focusing on the CEO here because with the job comes a megaphone. People want to know what the CEO thinks. But the CEO is also often the only person in an organization who dares to say anything broad and interesting. Broad is important because the company needs to talk to several stakeholders and that’s the CEO’s job. Interesting is a must if you are after impact, and not just empty likes. There are great examples of smart experts and partners successfully blogging for a company, but a strict requirement is that they are allowed to think originally and express themselves personally. The company culture must tolerate stardom.

“The company culture must tolerate stardom.

So, the main point of executive content is redefining a company’s role in the information food chain: from a target for the press to a source for stakeholders. The old paradigm was to shield executives with PR folks and spin doctors to minimize unwanted attention. The new paradigm is to be proactive: talk about and explain what is important already before other people quite get it and by doing that become a leading source in your industry.

CEOs of listed companies must of course exercise caution because when they whisper the world (and especially their staff) often hears a roar. But for scaleups that have the world to win but no time to lose, interesting, even aggressive executive content is often the fastest way to get the word out there.

The challenge with any content is always time. Time to think and time to create. The excruciating schedule of a CEO is the worst enemy of executive content, but there’s a relatively easy way around that. Hire a writer or an agency to help. An assistant reserves the time for a meeting, a theme is picked based on a mutual understanding of the company’s strategy, and then you discuss the topic until there are enough notes to compose a post or an article. Then the writer writes it, the exec reviews it and once it’s right it is published and amplified in all the right channels.

Executive blog is a great way to get going because in general smart people like to read, and by blogging you build a great library of relevant content. But the basic process is the same with all content: videos, podcasts, keynote speeches, even books. Social media is different. If it is a discussion, as it should be, the CEO should do it by himself. If it means promoting a piece of content, others can do it for him.

There are a few extra perks that come with a solid executive content process. As you work on your content with a content pro, it helps you to structure your thoughts and prepare for interviews with the press. If you build an audience and trust before you hit a storm (as most CEOs do at some point), you are at a much better position to tell your side of the story than someone with no following. In the age of social media there’s very little distinction between internal and external communications: your own employees might be some of your closest followers. And lastly, a smart CEO should probably take it easy on promoting his or her persona (it is all about the company!) but by constantly putting one’s best thoughts out there, the CEO will see also his or her worth grow.

Here’s some great executive content I follow and learn from. 

Elon Musk tweets
Musk is a must. Because of his own following he can promote anything and seemingly get away with anything.

Ray Dalio’s instagram, videos and books
Bridgewater’s founder, former boss and co-investment officer shares his thoughts on economics and individual growth

Fred Wilson blog
Co-founder of venture fund Union Square partner’s daily blog

Anything by Andreessen and Horowitz
The venture fund has positioned itself as a leading source of expert information on things digital and uses every channel imaginable

Matt Mullenweg blog and podcast
The creator of WordPress has blog on things he likes and a podcast on distributed organization

Reid Hoffman blog and podcast
One of the dons of PayPal mafia and LinkedIn shares his thoughts on how to scale businesses

Claire Lew’s blog and podcast 
She is the CEO of a small software company called Know Your Team that sells software to managers who want to develop their leadership skills. Her blog and especially her podcast, called The Heartbeat, are great examples of how you can punch way above your weight when you use executive content content wisely – and have fun while doing it.

Warren Buffet’s letters to stakeholders
Here’s how to become one of the wealthiest people on earth through reading and writing

Jeff Bezos letters to shareholders
Some of the most strategic executive content you can find anywhere.

The Language Dilemma

This blog and newsletter are in English. I used to blog in Finnish and I still do my podcasts (10X Finland) in Finnish. So why the change? If I only looked at the number of readers I’d stick to Finnish. The same content by a Finnish writer usually reaches twice as many readers in Finnish than it does in English. So, with this move I am probably letting half of the readers go. I sincerely apologize to anyone feeling they’ve been betrayed because they signed up for a letter and a blog in Finnish.

 But when I look at who is reading and who I hope will be reading, English is a must. We serve companies growing internationally and therefore we do most of our client work in English, half of the people we work with do not speak Finnish. We are also increasingly serving companies that are from outside of Finland. So, because our network speaks English, I must blog in English and our website must be in English (as it is after a recent change). It’s kind of funny, once a Finnish company working in English was considered exclusive, now the point of using English is to be inclusive.