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Gini Dietrich

How Communicators Should Work with Difficult Executives

By: Gini Dietrich | March 13, 2013 | 
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How Communicators Should Work with Difficult ExecutivesThe other day we were talking about Elon Musk in the comments here and Brad Marley asked, “How do we deal with difficult executives?”

This is hard for me because I am an executive so I have an advantage many don’t: Other business leaders see me as a peer, which gives me some leeway in counseling them to do something new, different, and scary.

That said, there are lots of times we have to gain consensus and approvals from the leaders of our client’s organizations and sometimes that isn’t easy.

Often times you’re trying to convince them they not only should have open, honest, and transparent communications, but it’s a complete mind shift from what they learned in business school and how they’ve run their organizations for years.

There are a few things that speak to difficult executives when you want them to take a risk: Money, proof, buy-in from his or her executive team, and what the competitors are or are not doing.

Let’s start with the competitors.

Competitive and Market Research

When I spoke to the Central Ohio PRSA chapter last fall, a young man came up to me afterwards and told me he’d really like to get his organization to do things differently, but he didn’t know how to make the case.

We talked about doing some competitive and market research. I asked him if he knew, off the top of his head, what their competitors were doing on the web. He didn’t know.

That’s your first step. Maybe you did a competitive analysis when you began your job or took on a new client. But one thing is certain: Things have changed, even if you did it just a month ago.

Keep the research open and go back and add to it at least monthly. This will help you build the case to say either, “XYZ competitor is doing this and they’re leaving us in the dust” or “No one in our industry is doing this, but it works with these companies so I’d like to try this so we can gain the leadership advantage.”

Which leads us to proof.

Proof

One of the best ways to gain their consensus is to show them what the companies they admire are doing.

Ask them which companies they admire, which they want to be like next year, five years from now, and 10 years from now.

We work with an organization that has the vision to become one of the best companies of our generation.

That means we review what companies such as GE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Apple do and provide them with thinking on changes they can make to achieve that same status.

GE is one of my favorites because they use Instagram and Tumblr and Vine in really creative ways to showcase some of their innovation. But the cool thing they do? They’re not doing it for the people who buy airplane engines. They’re doing it for you and me because they want to go down in the history books as one of the great companies of our time.

This gives us great fodder for our client in changing how they approach communications.

Buy-In

Many leaders want to know they have consensus and buy-in from their executive team.

Which means you have some work to do before you can approach the corner office.

If you’re in a large organization, start with your boss and then their boss and then their boss and so on.

Show them the competitive and market research you’ve pulled together. Give them the industry or admirable company proof. Get their buy-in.

In some cases, this may mean they’ll take credit for the work you did. If that’s the case, start looking for a new job.

But also know, if your idea is worth stealing, you didn’t win the battle, but you’ve won the war.

Money

And the last thing is money. Money talks for everyone and difficult executives are no exception.

During your market and competitive research, you’ll find new ways to make money. If you can present a new revenue stream while you’re gaining buy-in, you’ll win every time.

Think about things such as content created from your intellectual property you can sell, professional development for the industry, a new product or service, or even getting your executives on the paid speaking circuit because of the unique thinking they have to offer.

A super smart client emailed me the other day and said, “The growing distance in thought leadership between us and our competitors makes me wonder if we actually have new competitors?”

When clients or the leaders inside your organization begin to think this way, you’ve won.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

74 comments
barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Thoughtful and systematic. You keep thinkin' and writin' Gini!  

Branding_Guy
Branding_Guy

4 ways to get buy-in from your executives on changes in %s %sKox - Great tips fr%sich

bradmarley
bradmarley

 @ginidietrich Thanks for writing this. I think most CEOs came to be where they are by relying on data to drive their actions, so, like you say, if we can show them what works, they will be more open to accepting our advice. Once again, research plays a large role in our work. We need to do more of it.

 

One thing I want to add: Communications professionals need to not be afraid of stepping in and interrupting our leaders when they say something we shouldn't, especially when staffing an interview. That's why we are there. It's up to us to ensure the message is accurate. If we let them  keep talking when we know it's inaccurate, what good are we?

 

p.s. I also love everything GE does.

SpinSucks
SpinSucks

@RobBiesenbach Thanks for sharing Rob!! I really love what GE does with their social networks. I wish I was that creative!!

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Executive? = yep.

Difficult? = in my darker moments.

Good Communication advisers around me? = mmmmm

When do you open your ME office??? 

jolynndeal
jolynndeal

This is an excellent strategy.  It's showing executives the evolution and advancement of benchmarking and best practices, which are certainly terms they are familiar with from business school.  Thank you for sharing!

giulianalonigro
giulianalonigro

@ginidietrich You write so many amazingly helpful blog posts. It's great to read about a savvy C-Level executive's thoughts

susanweiner
susanweiner

@SpinSucks I know many communicators who deal with difficult executives, so I figure that was my public service for today.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @bradmarley Totally, totally agree with your second paragraph. We just had a situation with a client that he met with a journalist without telling us and then was angry about how the story was positioned. Well, um, you have to let us know so we can step in and be the bad guy if necessary.

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@SpinSucks B2B or B2C, buyers and sellers are ultimately people, and should communicate that way -- human to human!

bradmarley
bradmarley

 @ginidietrich It should be a reality show: "When Executives Go Rogue." I would watch at least the pilot episode.

RTRViews
RTRViews

@ginidietrich What do you expect? Always: Great Post Gini? I'm a certified curmudgeon and intend to keep that certification. :)

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