To establish thought leadership, companies can tap executives to share their ideas, experience, and expertise to build trust and authenticity in their brand. But even if those executives like to write, many just don’t have the time to consistently publish content.
What Is “Story as a Service?”
Enter Lynn Bruno, a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer turned digital marketer. Lynn offers what she calls “Story as a Service” — a collaborative, technology-enabled approach to writing executive bylines for a variety of channels including LinkedIn, company blogs, industry publications and major media outlets.
Lynn’s version of SaaS combines her investigative research and writing skills with her media savvy. She identifies areas where her clients can contribute to relevant industry conversations and develops topical articles. What has transformed her consulting business, however, is technology.
Using recording apps and a speedy transcription service, Lynn can truly capture a client’s voice. Freed from having to take notes, she can dig deeper into topics during a conversation and focus on drawing out what they know and think.
Just Don’t Call It Ghostwriting
“I have seen ghostwriting done where the ‘author’ and the writer never meet,” she says. “The writer produces an article on an assigned topic and the executive’s byline goes on it. What I do is a collaboration — you’re the expert and we develop the topic together in conversation. My goal is always to channel the subject’s voice and pull out their personal stories, so the resulting article is uniquely theirs. The best compliment I’ve ever gotten was from a long-time client who told me I helped him find his voice. That’s what I’m aiming for, every time.”
Don’t call it cheating either.
Lynn says she frequently encounters subjects that feel uncomfortable about not doing all the work themselves. “What I tell them is that no one writes alone. If you write for a newspaper or get a book contract, there is a team of editors helping you shape your idea and giving you feedback all along the way. You’re going to go through a lot of drafts with lots of redlines from lots of people. It’s actually very collaborative.”
In fact, that’s what she loves most about her SaaS projects. “The two hardest parts of writing are that it is lonely, and it is hard to get started,” she says. “Developing the topic together in conversation makes it fun, not lonely. When I get the transcript back, that serves as the first draft. The bulk of writing is editing. I use technology to get to that part quicker.”
How to Make Your Stories Successful
As an adept writer, Lynn is just one key component of building a successful executive content program. Does your company have these other pieces to achieve your goals?
- Willing Executives. Is your CEO or subject matter expert ready to share their ideas and be the company’s voice in the marketplace? Can they commit time to do a short briefing and review the content?
- Marketing Team. Is your marketing communications team on board with executives sharing their ideas? Are they willing to let people speak authentically, in a way that is aligned with the brand, but without trying to turn bylines into marketing copy?
- PR Agency. Many clients find value just publishing to LinkedIn or the company blog. If you aspire to write for trade media or general business publications, you’ll need an agency to find media opportunities and pitch the articles for broad publication.
- Social Media Presence. You’ll need to build an audience on social media profiles to extend reach and promote sharing of your articles. It’s also helpful to “listen” to what people in your industry are talking about on social media to inform writing.
How to Make Stories Come Alive
Once you have the pieces mentioned above in place, setting up a process to generate content efficiently might look something like this:
- Use social media listening tools to understand industry conversations.
- Define the topic upfront. Keep it focused.
- Book only 30 minutes for the executive briefing (or else it becomes too much material).
- Leverage a writer like Lynn to turn the interview into a compelling article.
- Allow time for edits from the executive and marketing team.
- Post the article on your corporate blog.
- Promote the article on social media and respond to comments.
- Pitch for distribution in larger publications.
- Keep the content going on a regular basis.
- Measure for success.
Is This Process Worth It?
Most articles are evergreen and can be used as an asset in sales cycles and social media repeatedly. If you have a PR firm on board, there’s a good chance that they can be syndicated to multiple outlets, reaching a variety of audiences.
“This is a very scalable use of executive time,” Lynn says. “If you think about the ways that executives build thought leadership, it’s often through speaking to a group or participating in a panel discussion. There’s prep time and travel time, and they might reach a few hundred people that way. I would never say don’t do that, but by spending an hour or two doing SaaS with me, we can memorialize your messages and reach thousands and thousands of people with it, 24/7 on the internet.”
Story as a Service ROI
There are a variety of ways to measure ROI — social shares, comments, page visits, audience reach — but as with other brand-building initiatives, the effect builds over time. “I’ve seen clients named to industry influencer lists. They start to get more speaking invitations. People look up to them as them as leaders, which is usually what happens when you speak up. You elevate your status, and your company’s along with it,” Lynn says.
Her favorite ROI story though concerns venture fundraising. She’s written for a number of CEOs who wanted to share their fundraising tips and stories, and these have run in leading business publications. One CEO wrote about how instead of going door to door on Sand Hill Road, his company successfully raised a round by auctioning off the opportunity to invest.
When they decided to do a subsequent round the same way, an investor at a high-profile VC firm who had read the story called the CEO directly with a “buy-it-now” offer in an attempt to shortcut the process and take out all other bidders. While the CEO declined and ran the auction anyway, “I’d have to guess that having a buy-it-now offer in hand from that particular firm helped drive up the value of that round by at least a few million dollars,” says Lynn.
For executives who think sharing their expertise is a time-intensive chore, think again. It can actually be fun, easy, and rewarding. While not every article will have a million dollar ROI, if you keep at it, you can see a boost in engagement with your constituents — on social media, through speaking opportunities, or requests for interviews — all giving you better visibility and building trust in your brand.
There’s help available if this is what you’re looking for — contact EM Marketing.