Writing E-Mail for C-Level Execs

Current wisdom says it’s impossible to reach C-level executives via email. Gatekeeper administrative assistants shield them from anything the least bit promotional.

Yet, a few messages do seem make it to the top. Mary Long, marketing director at Source Media (formerly Thomson Media) recently asked me to write an email inviting bank CEOs, presidents, and EVPs to Source Media’s Retail Financial Services Symposium.

A number of email messages are usually sent over the course of a typical conference promotion cycle. About midway through that cycle, one is the keynote email. It announces the event will feature a marquee name speaker, with a brief bio included.

Having studied DISC psychology, I know certain C-level types, called “influencers,” are always very interested in what their competitors are doing. So I didn’t just announce the CEO of Umpqua Bank, the innovative Northwest bank, would speak. Instead, I wrote a more intriguing subject line to pull in other CEOs who would be interested in what an industry leader was planning: “Umpqua CEO on Next Moves: Retail Financial Services Symposium.”

The message body lead off with: “The remarkable Umpqua Bank success story is already a classic.” And I quickly recounted a few of Umpqua’s breakthroughs that made the bank a standout, such as serving lattes in branches that resemble hotel lobbies.

The lead-in took just three lines to bring CEOs to the page-turner: “Now the second chapter unfolds… and you’re invited to hear the ’author’ Raymond P. Davis, President and CEO of Umpqua Holdings, on what happens next.”

Another key DISC tactic when talking to CEO types is “be brief, be brilliant, and be gone.” The first screen of copy attracts the time-pressed senior executive’s attention. The actual copy, however, runs to two pages. In my experience, long copy almost always wins over short for conference promotions.

How did the email perform? Though the numbers are confidential, Long reports a huge spike in event registration during the two weeks immediately following the email broadcast. Overall, event registration grew 20 percent over the previous year.

Though not all your email will reach your intended CEO audience, make sure the ones that do get through speak directly to C-level concerns:

  • Profits

  • Market share
  • Competition
  • Winning
  • Strategy
  • Efficiencies and tax savings

A few other tips to keep in mind:

  • CEOs are like everyone else; they like a story. If they didn’t, those business magazines wouldn’t sell!

  • Gatekeepers probably read the email first, so make sure their concerns are covered, too. Long did this by creating a banner on top stating the “best rates expire January 10.” Administrative assistants worth their salt will want to help their bosses get the lowest rates for an event they’re planning to attend.
  • CEOs only want to meet other captains of industry. If your event has high C-level participation, highlight it. Long often puts audience demographic pie charts in sidebars at the beginning of her email messages. These instantly telegraph the superior profile of her event attendees. Some of my other clients include links to online rosters of prestigious past or present attendees, who are listed with job titles.

Do you have interesting techniques for getting through to CEOs and other hard-to-reach executives? Send them to Karen.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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