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Mr. Fouse is a Partner and Lead Strategist with Pinkston, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications firm.
Over two decades in the communications industry, I’ve worked with many CEOs and executives to help cultivate book ideas, develop their audience and use their book to speak directly to that audience. I’ve seen how these books have opened up new opportunities for both the authors and their organizations.
One misconception among CEOs and executives is that if you write a book, it needs to be a bestseller (or it needs to be published by one of the big five) to be successful. But self-published books can be just as effective at growing your business and your brand — and increasingly so, as more and more resources for authors become available. Our client David DeWolf, who founded the software development company 3Pillar and grew it into a global business, self-published his first book, The Product Mindset, with his colleague Jessica Hall in 2019. The book, along with a lot of hard work, has helped DeWolf not just sustain but grow his company during the pandemic, leading to new clients, new strategic partnerships and acquisition.
For thought-leading CEOs, the goal doesn’t need to be royalties or a People magazine spread, but rather specific business- or brand-related goals. Here are three reasons CEOs (and their communication teams) should consider writing a book, from a strategic communications perspective.
1. A Book Helps You Find Your Voice
Books allow executives to communicate their ideas in their own voice (rather than sound bites filtered by the media). As the public becomes more interested in CEOs as real people, developing this voice becomes more important. Consider fashion entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso. Her book, #Girlboss, helped build her brand as an outspoken female role model, and it eventually became a Netflix original series. Bob Iger’s 2019 book, The Ride of a Lifetime, helped the former Disney CEO complete his transformation from “underrated CEO to Hollywood royalty,” as the Los Angeles Times called him.
2. A Book Communicates A Vision
A book has far greater intrinsic value than a white paper, memo or business plan. It adds weight to ideas, shows how concentric parts of those ideas work together and forces an executive to think in a narrative-like, linear way. This kind of big-picture thought process is important, not just for effective thought leadership but for effective communication. What’s the story you’re trying to tell? And what are your communications goals? Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, for example, launched a new movement in corporate social responsibility with Conscious Capitalism, written with Raj Sisodia. Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness shined a spotlight on good corporate culture practices.
3. A Book Is Good For Business
In Platform, Michael Hyatt — who we helped with PR — discusses how having a great product isn’t enough anymore. In a crowded economy with a lot of noise, getting the attention of the right audience requires not just good ideas but also a strong communications platform. A good communications platform can help in a variety of ways, from crisis handling to cultural influence, but ultimately it can also help drive business. And it’s often the lesser-known CEOs who benefit more from writing a book than the already-famous. Consider entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. His 2007 book The 4-Hour Workweek was rejected by 27 publishers. Eleven years later, it was the most-highlighted book on Amazon’s Kindle. He also successfully sold his business, BrainQUICKEN, in 2010.
In most cases, a CEO author’s goal shouldn’t be to become a household name, but rather to target specific stakeholder audiences that can strengthen their company’s platform. But here’s a word of warning for the faint of heart: A book must be seen as more than just a short-term marketing campaign. A book is an organization-wide initiative that can span months or years at a time.
Finally, a book can be good for a company’s internal business, too. If used strategically, it can be a strong change management tool that breaks down silos within an organization and gets everyone focused on a common goal. For sales, from the top of the funnel down, a book unifies a company’s voice and enables different departments to work in unison.
Many executives have strong ideas and interesting stories to tell. Telling them well takes work. Today, with print-on-demand, e-books, high-quality boutique publishing companies and new distribution channels, it’s easier to get that story to the right stakeholders in a compelling, attractive, meaningful way.
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