You’re sitting in front of an executive who told you she “needs to write a blog.” She begins by telling you about one of her ideas that you adore on her vision for where the company is headed – and then she veers off into talking about the amazing success of your company’s latest user growth initiative. Then, after 20 minutes, her assistant comes in to tell her about a VIP call that she has to take. You retreat to the couch by the executive assistant’s desk, and consider, now, how am I going to do this?
Well, none of these experiences are uncommon – and they don’t mean you can’t succeed at your task. Here are seven ways to make your blog the best it can be – and make your task easier.
1. Set realistic expectations that include a realistic timeline: Communicate to your executive what is involved in crafting a blogpost, including both your time and hers. It takes an initial interview, answering clarifying questions (likely), and reviewing and providing feedback to drafts, including potentially from others in the company, as well as posting and promoting on social media/other media. (If your executive doesn’t have access to strong platforms, you should consider placing it on one that does, opinion pages included, as shaped by your strategy and objectives.) Be clear up front about who needs to review, edit, and approve the document before it can officially be shared.
2. Prepare more than you think you should. First, read everything about the topic you can find. If you need to interview others in the company or other experts, do so before your in-person interview of the executive. Second, read other things that the executive has written to get a sense of her style, voice and flow.
3. Identify the piece’s objective, target audience and main messages and have your executive approve/give feedback. Once you have done your research, develop a document for approval that identifies the piece’s objective (e.g. engage followers, take a specific action, share a position on an issue, etc.) that should be measurable, your target audience(s), and the main messages or theme of the piece. This should be discussed with your executive, tweaked as needed, and used in both drafting and measuring your results.
4. Prepare your questions ahead of time. Based on the information in number 3 above, prepare your questions ahead of time. Open-ended questions that encourage the speaker to elaborate are best, e.g. “tell me more about that strategy….”
5. The interview: Listen, ask questions, listen, ask questions, repeat: Its best to develop your questions ahead of time based on your strategy. (See number four above.) But you’ll have to listen carefully and almost always have to ask follow up questions to get clarity on anything not adequately explained. Be sure to ask all your questions because you may not get another chance. Listen carefully, take notes if that helps you pay attention; we encourage you to tape the interview, and have it transcribed. (Try rev.com for inexpensive and quick transcriptions.) With these notes, you can easily highlight important points. In any case, listen a few times to the playback of the recording; it can give you a sense of the “riff” or direction of your executive, allow you to hear where she is most enthusiastic or where she puts her emphasis. And in the situation where the conversation may meander and you have difficulty interpreting what is the main idea or most important points, don’t be afraid to add some final, pointed questions such as “what is the most important thing you want this audience to know about x?”
6. Identify key themes. Listen to anyone on a regular basis whether it is your spouse or your executive and you will notice every human being repeats him– or herself. We are drawn to speak more often about the topics we care most about, so listen carefully and re-read your notes or your transcript, along with previous work your executive has written or speeches she has given, and you will start to notice themes that emerge. These are usually the ideas that are most important to your executive, so they should be the anchor points in your blog.
7. Hone in on your executive’s voice and “brand.” Equally important to what they say is how they say it. Most leaders have an idea of the image they want to project to the company and wider audiences and they speak in a style and use language that helps communicate that image. Does your executive think of herself or himself as humble? Revolutionary? Introspective? How do others in the company perceive her? Focusing in on their brand and voice will help you best capture their voice when you write the piece. A CEO that thinks of herself as a maverick and wants to project that image will use very different language than a CEO who thinks of herself as more humble or introspective.
Now that you have moved through these seven steps you should have a very solid first draft. But that is only just the beginning! Revisit tip number one and remember you will need to have the piece reviewed, possibly several times not only by the executive, but possibly by others within the organization.
Finally, make sure to report back on your results to all that were involved in its development.
Good luck. Let us know how it goes.