Who’s in the C-suite… and how do you write for them?

“C-suite” is a term that’s used a lot in B2B marketing. Most of us understand what it refers to but who’s actually in the suite? And how do you write for each persona?

Who’s in the C-suite… and how do you write for them?

As B2B copywriters, we’re often told the audience for a piece of content is “the C-suite”. But in practice, that refers to a pretty diverse bunch of people that’s regularly growing – and what they need to read from us can vary wildly.

But first things first: what’s a C-suite?

The ‘C’ refers to the word ‘chief’. This is always the first word in the title and is usually the highest role in a particular department, and in the case of the chief executive officer, usually the head of all departments within an organisation.

‘Suite’ describes a board room where these titles supposedly sit. This is generally imaginary, and is a bit of a stereotype.

Before wading in any further, we should establish who’s in this mythical glass-panelled room. This isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Generally, there is a set of C-suite roles that span most organisations around the globe but there are also industry and geographical variations depending on the market they operate in. These can range from chief legal officer (CLO) for organisations more liable to risk, to chief Sharia officer (CSO), responsible for Sharia compliance within companies operating in Islamic countries, specifically the banking sector.

In this post, though, I’m just going to focus on the big six: chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief information officer (CIO), chief marketing officer (CMO), chief operating officer (COO) and chief technology officer (CTO).

The basics: what do they have in common?

When writing for any C-suite role, there are a few things you need to keep in mind that will help you understand what these people care about, the challenges they face and what they had to do to get there.

The day of middle-aged white men in three-piece suits making up most C-roles remain very much a reality. And while the picture is gradually changing, the route to those dizzying heights remains the same; hard-work, merit and, let’s be honest, perhaps a little ruthlessness. These people are at the top of their tree; they’ve had long careers and are very good at what they do – and their reward is a C-based title.

They’ll have large teams of people working under their responsibility, and they all want to improve their department’s efficiency, reduce its costs, and ultimately help the organisation to make more money.

C-suiters have very little time in their day to read marketing material, and this is the most important point. So don’t waste their time. Anything you write aimed at the C-suite needs to challenge, intrigue and inform in as few words as possible, while saying something they didn’t already know.

Now, what else does each persona need?

Chief executive officer (CEO): big picture, quickly

The CEO is the most senior C-suite position, primarily tasked with ensuring the highest possible revenues within an organisation are achieved while not compromising on performance.

They want to know the essentials – so get to the point. If you haven’t caught their attention within your first line of copy, you’ve failed.

Unlike the other C-suiters, however, niche subjects aren’t likely to appeal. They want to know what’s going on in business and are interested in new ideas that can dovetail with their own thinking.

Despite being the most difficult persona to write for in the C-suite, the CEO makes the big decisions that affect everyone – and that’s a heavy responsibility. If you can bring something new to their attention that helps cut costs while improving performance, they just might listen.

Chief financial officer (CFO): prove the bottom-line benefit

Writing for a CFO, your copy needs to be ruthlessly focused around finance. More specifically, how the CFO can increase revenues but at the same time, reduce expenditure.

Connecting with a CFO through copy means one thing: prove the return on investment for whatever you’re selling. Big, hollow claims are easily dismissed – you need to really show your working.

Your copy also needs to demonstrate that you empathise with the CFO’s position; without this, your claims won’t be taken seriously.

Chief information officer (CIO): benefit versus risk

No C-suite position is easy, but being a CIO is arguably the most challenging. CIOs are in an unusual position where enterprise technology is changing rapidly – and advances and disruption are everywhere – but many are struggling to manage an unsightly tangle of legacy systems.

Understanding the pressures CIOs are under is important. As well as maintaining and keeping legacy systems running, they are under increasing pressure to provide the latest technology to employees to enable greater productivity, mobile working and even –  just maybe – digital transformation.

They’re likely to care about migrating to a better way of doing things if you can show how to do it in a cost-effective manner and with minimal disruption. They take the heat when systems go wrong, so risk mitigation is a big driver, too.

Chief technology officer (CTO): demonstrate your chops

A CTO will work closely with the CIO, however, their priorities are very different. Whereas the CIO focuses on ‘keeping the lights on’, the CTO will be on the hunt for new technology to procure and ways to improve efficiency in the organisation.

When writing for a CTO, you need to keep in mind they’re probably experts in their own right, and the technical sophistication of your copy needs to reflect this. You need to demonstrate your own expertise on a subject (rather than just using a few buzzwords and hoping for the best).

They will generally have a technical background, in IT or elsewhere. Detail and backing up copy with reliable sources will go a long way to attracting their attention.

Times are changing for the C-suite

According to Fast Company, it’s going to be more important than ever for companies to hold on to their C-suite talent, so that skills and experience can be kept in-house. This may lead to significant changes to the composition of roles in the future, and will likely prompt major reorganisations.

As middle management positions continue to become less abundant in organisations tasked with cutting overheads, and company hierarchies flattening, average C-suite structures are expected to expand.

And just like all jobs, C-suite roles evolve over time and respond to changes in business and technology. Therefore, as copywriters, we should be prepared for the C-suite of the future and the challenges they will face.

Niche-sounding roles may become very important, and understanding these changes will be crucial to C-suite copywriting. For instance, before the rise of big data and analytics, few might have envisaged the need for a chief data officer, but today many large organisations would be lost without one. A quick search of Google fetched a chief morale boosting initiative officer (not naming any company names!) – well, we all need pepping up on a Monday morning, right?

As B2B copywriters, we’re constantly monitoring the world of B2B marketing for emerging areas and trends in content. Understanding the changing personas in the the C-suite should be no different; how the C-suite continues to develop is just as important as changes in account based marketing and artificial intelligence. Perhaps more so.


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