Time is money: How to ensure that executive engagement on content pays off

I was making a presentation to a prospective client recently, and the question came up: “How much time will our partners have to commit to content development?” It turned out this company had recently engaged a PR firm to work with its experts and produce a few articles. The process had been time consuming, required the company to spend considerable energy in reviewing drafts, and eventually produced material that was subpar.

I was reminded that for most business leaders, managing their day is an exercise of too many requests and not enough time. Nonessential tasks—those that don’t have a material impact on the business—will be delegated or delayed to make room for higher-value projects. Similarly, subject matters experts often don’t have the luxury of putting clients on hold to devote time to other areas such as developing original content for the company. Such trade-offs often translate into less time with family or less sleep. In short, their time is precious and must be treated accordingly.

The truth is that shaping firsthand knowledge into compelling insight does take time. However, that doesn’t mean that a busy executive must be present at every stage. An effective content development process carefully manages author engagement to ensure that their time is spent judiciously. It draws on existing materials—speeches or client presentations, for example—where possible, using them as a starting point for further exploration. Most important, the people driving the process must be familiar with the topic and intended audience so that time isn’t wasted getting them up to speed.

So how can you be sure that your content partner will use your time wisely? You should look for a few basic rules and behavior:

  1. Advanced planning is a must. Before carving out time in an executive’s business schedule, the writer should always conduct research on the topic and industry, with special consideration paid to recent articles to understand where the conversation is and how the executive can contribute to it.
  2. Goals of any engagement should be clearly defined. A phone call should never be a fishing expedition in the hopes that kernels of wisdom will magically appear. The content partner should clearly define the goal of any interaction. Providing questions or an outline in advance can give executives a chance to think about the topic and formulate their ideas before getting on the call.
  3. The process must be clear. In general, executives should be asked to weigh in twice: once on an initial draft, and once to approve a final version before publication or promotion. Although ideas can evolve throughout the review process, the executive’s feedback should be the main driver of revisions and direction.
  4. There’s no substitute for targeted involvement. Thought leadership can’t be completely outsourced; the result is often a well-written or -produced piece that’s devoid of any new insight. For content to be distinctive, it has to reflect the executive’s unique ideas and perspective.

The ideal content partner has the industry perspective to shape ideas, an understanding of the topic and audience, the ability to manage the development process, and the writing chops to get it done. While that might seem like a wide range of skills, a company that doesn’t possess all of them is going to waste your time and likely your money.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of LEFF. He’s spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he’s had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of “lean content creation” as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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