Hunting the Elusive CEO

Apr 18, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Perhaps even harder to reach than 18-year-old males is the rare breed that goes by the lofty title of chief executive officer.
These captains of industry are an important target, particularly for marketers of business services ranging from office equipment to real estate to travel. They are also in demand among makers of luxury goods, who seen the CEO as a style setter, especially among those who believe in aspirational dressing for success.
Once upon a time, the CEO, usually cocooned in his office behind a big desk with a personal assistant vigilantly standing guard, was relatively easy prey while in transit. CEOs were known to soak in advertising while in airports, planes and hotels.
But nowadays, according to a recent report from media agency Mediaedge:cia’s MediaLab division, CEOs are paying more attention to messages on their BlackBerrys and other personal digital assistants.
“For advertisers, this means the challenge of dealing with CEOs’ partial attention is always present, as they find ways of using even the shortest fragments of down time,” the Mediaedge report said.
Partial attention is the way the report describes the CEO’s state of mind when it comes to most media.
“Although CEOs are likely to be constantly occupied, their job requires that they are always receptive to anything important or urgent. Accordingly, continuous partial attention is the state in which CEOs are most likely to be found at times and places brand owners aim to reach them,” the report said.
Even when they are more receptive to commercial messages, those messages must be relevant to a task at hand and specific to an important issue if they are to engage the CEO.
“I’ll always notice advertising relevant to [my business] sector, my own company advertising or that of competitors,” said one of the CEOs interviewed by the agency.
Reaching a CEO directly, particularly by unsolicited e-mails, is unlikely to make a dent. Those messages are likely to be ignored unless they are from someone the CEO knows; he has been told by someone he trusts to expect the message; or the message can immediately convince the CEO that he must read it. In all cases, the message must meet the ultimate CEO criterion: Do I need to know this?
“CEOs are used to having someone else identify and highlight relevant information, giving them summaries of only what they have to know,” the report said. “Successful commercial communications copy this approach, by presenting headlines that immediately demonstrate why the text that follows should be read.”
Newspapers and media aren’t so much read as used by CEOs, the report said. They tend to tear pages out of publications to be dealt with later. They may not ever actually read what they’ve pulled from the paper, but instead might pass the clipping along to someone else to deal with. According to the report, CEOs say they’re more likely to tear out an article than an advertisement.
Meanwhile, TV and radio play in the background for CEOs, who pay little attention to programming unless an item of interest appears.
That brings us back to the CEO’s travel time and the BlackBerry, which has changed the way the CEO uses those moments alone away from the office.
Because those moments still exist, it remains important for advertisers to be in the publications that end up in the CEO’s briefcase when he’s traveling. That often includes business papers, business magazines and some of those torn pages from other publications.
Mediaedge also suggests it’s possible to get to CEOs through mobile media, although ads must not be seen as an unwanted interruption. While the BlackBerry may be the easiest way to reach CEOs, it “may not always be the best way to engage them,” the report said.
And while CEOs welcome the BlackBerry as a way to stay in touch, even they need some time when they can’t be reached.
Said one CEO: “I live in fear every day about cell phone use in flight.”


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