Executive profiling – getting it right

We’ve all been there. The message that filters down from the top…
“The (CEO/SVP/head of…) wants more exposure – we need a profile piece.”

A request which, depending on the executive in question, can illicit feelings of extreme interest and excitement or concern.

When tasked with securing a profile piece for anyone who is not a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates-esque character, yet still faced with the expectations of securing opportunities the afore mentioned would get, it is enough to make even the hardiest comms professional take pause.

But it doesn’t need to. Everyone has a story to tell – it’s just a matter of finding it.

The power of the profile

Profile stories are an important way to connect with your audience on a deeper, more authentic and more personal level than almost any other medium.

They provide glimpses into the people behind the brands, and proffer the stories that make the individual worth reading about as they add a much-needed sprinkling of humanity into a corporate identity.

They grant invaluable behind the curtain access to people that we would not normally have, giving readers a rare opportunity to better understand, learn from and relate to them.

Whether it’s an article about a CEO at a Fortune 500, an entrepreneur at a disruptive startup, or an inventor doing something innovative in their corner of the world – profile stories provide an opportunity to paint a picture about who a person is, what they do, and what makes them tick.

This makes them vital in the corporate story-telling world, especially when it comes to differentiating a brand and vision from the competition.

Inject some pizazz

The first thing to remember is that a profile cannot be a simple list of facts about someone’s life so, for those in the back, this rules out copy and paste jobs from LinkedIn.

For those of you who read profiles often, you’ll know that the good ones are those that tell an untold story, take an unexpected angle or offer something unique and personal to the individual. They illuminate someone’s character and actions putting them on display for readers to consume, digest and form an opinion on.

They need to be interesting, build up an impression of the subject, create tension, highlight their character, their behavior, their successes – but more importantly – the challenges they have or are in the process of overcoming. If there is an underdog element, even better.

Do your homework

The way you approach the development of a profile pitch is critical to whether it succeeds or fails.  But where to begin?

The crucial element is access. If you don’t have access to your subject, the endeavor is doomed from the start.

Go deep and wide with your questions and research. Yes, the profile you’re after wants to have a business focus, but that’s not necessarily what will resonate with audiences.

In lay terms this means explanations of how a CEO sits at their desk, answers emails, and approves expense reports is out.

Go broader. Delve into the ‘why’.

Why does this person deserve a profile? What makes them stand out? Why are they interesting? Why will a journalist or their readers care? Have they done anything exceptional, have they done any charity work, fronted causes or championed policies for marginalized groups? What extra-curricular activities have they done that set them apart from their peers?

But tread warily, as this is where many can come unstuck.

Take, as an example, the executive who takes a career break and embarks on a soul-searching adventure, risking life and limb to test the limits of their endurance as they seek out new tests and challenges.

Sounds like a great hook, but explore that concept a little further. Layer in context of a life partner left behind to look after the children. Other questions arise – the answers to which, one might not want featured in a profile piece.

Everyone loves a good story – give them what they want

The most important thing to remember, above all else, is that people love stories…

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

…and everybody has one to tell.

Whether it’s the classic rags-to-riches, the underdog, or the hero overcoming a challenge – people gravitate, relate and respond to those who are brave enough to tell their story, show their vulnerability, and share their mistakes for others to learn from.

The next executive you are asked to profile will be no different. They are human, they have experiences, and they have a story to tell.

It’s our job to help them find their story so they can tell it. And we love doing it.