White Paper Blues – When Execs Want to Help

When everybody wants to lend a hand in content marketing

You can’t fault an exec for wanting to get involved in creating your marketing content. But you should handle it delicately.

“So I have good news and bad news,” the director of marketing started off.

Just when I thought we were out of the tunnel on this campaign…

“The good news is that we’ve shown an early draft of the business-benefits piece to our CEO, and he quite likes it. In fact, he himself wrote a paper for a C-level peer at one of our customers a few months back that draws the business case around our product, and he’d like to provide it as material for our project.

“Obviously, that’s also the bad news.”

He laughed. I laughed. The agency laughed.


Managing executive expectations for marketing content

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at Milne Brothers Bike Shop on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. Mr. Jenkins had a sign on the wall in the service department out back that read:

Labor Rates


$7.50/hr. if you watch

$12.00/hr. if you help

I’ve thought about that as a model for managing customer expectations and involvement, but I doubt most businesses would get very far with it.

The point is that people who do know what they’re doing, don’t generally welcome the involvement of people who merely may know what they’re doing.

So consider these levels of involvement for the executives of your client-companies:

  1. “Let me make sure we’re on the same page.” – When, as in this case, the CEO has devoted some time, thought and potentially high-value perspective to his own material, you cannot afford to have your marketing content run afoul of how your CEO sees things.
    1. It’s probably better if you can convince the exec to let you review his material, instead of having him review yours.
  2. “Let me just approve what you’ve written.” – This is smart. One of my favorite CEOs did this with all the content we generated beyond datasheets and product briefs. He never rewrote our copy, but he had his fingers on its pulse, and we knew that he had the ultimate say.
  3. “Let me help.” – This is a pain for everybody. Execs rarely have time to help on these projects, and they become bottlenecks, if well-intentioned bottlenecks. Writing a paper or a thought-piece with a VP or C-level exec is usually very difficult. You’re better off recording her at a conference and turning that into a paper.
  4. “Let me butt out.” – Optimal for most parties concerned, in the short run. Really, though, you should try to make your work visible to the execs, if only to justify your effort.

The sound marketing director

“I’m just kidding,” continued the marketing director. “I plan to manage the process so that we can keep our campaign moving ahead without delays. The CEO told me he’d like to see the early direction of the piece, and I’ve told him that I would like to review the material he put together.”

Whew. Option 1.1.

“He wants to be in the loop on this piece. I think he’ll have useful input, and he’ll be receptive to our description of business benefits. It’s a win for us, so long as we manage the changes smoothly.”

The sound marketing manager can make things like this work well. How do you handle it when execs want to help?

photo credit: Kelvyn Skee


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”