I have worked with a number of high-level execs that are creative, passionate, and articulate about their field of expertise. And they run a meeting and present at conferences like nobody’s business. But when it comes to expressing their ideas in written form – be it a client communication, an op-ed piece, or a bylined trade magazine article – clarity too often gets lost in translation.

This isn’t uncommon. Outside of the publishing and media industries, English and communications majors rarely make it to C-suite positions. But it remains a fact that grammar errors, misused words, poor analogies, and run-on sentences make any professional look bad. And when they come from the desk of an executive, it reflects poorly on the company and tarnishes the halo of your brand.

As with most problems, acknowledgement is the first step towards a solution. Perhaps it helps to know that corporate luminaries from Warren Buffet to Mark Zuckerberg have recognized their own linguistic shortcomings and tapped editorial professionals to get their message across.

If you are involved in content creation at an executive level, the following four fundamentals are key to improving your efficiency, brand equity, and corporate communications strategy.

Get out of the weeds. Try to exorcise your micromanagement demons. You have bigger fish to fry than the annual holiday client greeting. Empower your communications lead or team to develop all public and client facing messages. When you must be involved, set aside 15-20 minutes to be interviewed or to write out a short list of messaging bullets. Then let it go. A skilled communications pro is like a good actor; they consider audience and can imbue copy with stylistic authenticity.

For some signature communications, you may want to generate a first draft before handing it off to your team. Keep in mind that even with a first draft in hand, they will still have questions about audience and intent before they can generate a final version. The urge may be strong to skip this step, but unless you have psychics on staff, it’s essential.

Define a process and stick with it. No one likes an endless tweaker. Not only does it cost you significant time and resources, but it’s also demoralizing to your communications team. Set up clear parameters defining what corporate collateral and communications require your input and review. When your participation is needed, limit it to the very start of the process (for that 15 minute interview or bullet draft) and the very end for final sign off.

If you lead a small organization and believe that “efficient process” is an oxymoron, instilling some formal communications channels will make your business more nimble, not less. It’s simply a means to get all stakeholders in agreement at the start of the project. It also minimizes changes and scope creep that can derail or delay even the smallest job. Process can be as simple as a standard written request that defines the business goal, key message, and intended audience for a given content project. This blueprint will allow any communications pro to construct and deliver a spot-on message that should sail through sign off.

Avoid blogger’s remorse and email embarrassments. All public communications, including those with your signature, should be professionally edited and proofed. Even if the tone of your CEO blog is informal, spelling snafus and grammar errors will reflect poorly on you and your brand. [Editor’s Note: Twitter and other social media is a bit of a different beast that I’ll tackle in a separate future post.]

The editing filter should also be on for email-based communications, especially those sent to a large external distribution list. Of course it’s neither realistic nor feasible to route every email you write through a professional editor. Consider your audience. If you are contacting potential clients, prospective investors, or key opinion leaders, a quick editorial eye can save you from cringe-worthy mistakes.

Hire a pro. Unless you head up a publishing company or a media outlet, chances are you were not an English or journalism major. Even if you are, everyone needs a proofreader and a second set of eyes for a reality check. I was an editorial executive for many years, yet I never let a customer communication with my name on it leave the building without input from another skilled editorial eye. Not everyone has a communications department at their disposal, however. If your company is resource constrained, there are plenty of hired guns that can help you craft an executive message. Shameless plug intended.

Wordcrafts' Quotes

Open with Authority

"As writers we must, from our very opening sentence, speak with authority to our readers."

Michael Cunningham

Vanity Fair

"A writer who obtains his full purpose loses himself in his own lustre."

— Samuel Johnson

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