A Letter from the President
How to transform executive communications from cautious to charismatic and convincing
The insurance executive is a brilliant and busy species. They are often of great intellect and possess superhuman drive. But unlike their dynamic counterparts in the worlds of marketing and entertainment, they are cautionary individuals with calculating, actuarial mindsets. The insurance executive/brokerage owner is, above all things, a very busy, time-crunched species. There is little room in their schedule to finesse language around a new business idea or message, let alone craft it into a clear communications piece bearing their name.
This is where you, the designated communications lead, come in. It is your job to harness the knowledge, capture the content, and skilfully massage messaging to powerfully reach and persuade an insurance-buying public.
So how can you create the best results for your executive–and develop communications worthy of their name to make them shine like the superstars that they are?
Be passionate about preparation
Let’s start with preparation–the foundational work that can make or break communications. It’s a skill that requires as much project management as it does “writerly” ability. The best service you can provide up front is to do some preparatory thinking about the communication initiative in the following areas: topic, audience, purpose, media and desired results.
Ask the right questions
Now it is time to prepare and prioritize the questions to elicit the clearest, most relevant and illuminating responses from your leader–while respecting their time.
The list of questions will depend on your project, but here are some perennial favourites to coax out the best content and direction for your piece:
- What specific results are you trying to achieve with this piece?
- Why should it matter to your target audience?
- What actions would you like them to take?
- What are your top three messages, in order of importance?
The cassette (or mp3) recorder — your best tool!
The best thing you can do is to initially record all interviews you conduct with him on a given topic. Of course, just being a good dictation taker alone is not the sole secret to powerful executive communications writing. But it does help you: master their natural tone and nuances; express complex insurance industry ideas that would be otherwise hard to grasp; and capture their messages precisely–without error.
Be sure to get that John Hancock!
I can’t stress this point enough: The success of your communications initiative will ride on your initial project outline. Before the actual writing process starts, it is vital to summarize all the key areas of the initiative, from goals and content points to timelines and persons accountable and get that sign off BEFORE you start the work.
Use positive, empowering language
As eloquent and educated as your executive may be, he or she may still be stuck in a quagmire of defensive and un-empowering language. This is where they most need your help to craft the message into a stellar communication. You can still retain the accuracy of the messaging–while lending fire, passion and positivity to the tone and approach. Make word choices that are dynamic and affirming. This will open doors for employees, clients and stakeholders who are reading the piece, instead of shutting them.
- Suggests alternatives and choices available
- Is helpful and encouraging rather than bureaucratic
- Stresses positive actions and consequences that can be anticipated.
Skimmable, scannable copy
Here is a statistic that may shock you: 60% of your audience does not read copy. They skim it. When it comes to web copy, that statistic jumps to 79%.
There is much to be gained by borrowing some of the tricks of good website writing and applying them your executive communications projects. Always use accessible, clear, plain language, avoiding industry jargon to create copy that your audience can easily absorb on first read.
Avoid the mistake of “spinning” bad news
Delivering negative or unpleasant news to insurance employees is one of the toughest communications to get right. Many communicators make the mistake of trying to “soften the blow”–finding ways to put a positive spin on the information or even assign blame. They use words that express personal regret or imply that forces beyond their control are at play (“We are a victim of the latest earthquake… or airline disaster”).
Some will even attempt to shift blame by associating themselves with others (“Every insurer in North America is facing these same tough decisions”).
And these days, of course, many of us are faced with the challenge of delivering news about all the new changes, caps and restrictions on auto insurance in Canada due to new regulations.
Whether directly or indirectly affected, employees and customers require clear, unemotional information. They want to know what, why, when and how:
- What is happening?
- Why is it happening?
- When will it happen?
- How will I be affected?
All other information, no matter how well-intentioned, is superfluous and may do more harm than good by confusing or overly complicating the message.
For these reasons the three guiding principles of delivering “bad news” are:
3. Direct honesty.
Resist the temptation to hide behind ambiguous language, justifying all the reasons, being less than truthful or using superfluous apologetic words that will not benefit the employees or stakeholders. The result will be a communication that will showcase your insurance leader as strong, trustworthy and direct.
Lights, Camera, Action
So you’ve done the planning and preparation, paved your accountability trail, captured your executive’s messaging and airbrushed the content so it sparkles. Your insurance company president is now ready for his close-up.
With attention to all these processes, tips, tricks, and trade secrets, your communications mission will be accomplished. And your cautious insurance executive will emerge from behind his shell to convince, persuade, educate, sell, and inspire with the strength and lyricism of a dynamic and captivating leader.
Laura Ranieri has more than 15 years of experience as a communications consultant and senior copywriter. She has worked as a senior writer/communications lead at marketing agencies and also within leading Canadian insurance companies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.copybard.com.
© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.