By Jonathan Crossfield published September 2, 2012

Hunting Hippos: Winning Approval from the C-Level for Content Marketing

Incredibly thick skinned, almost impossible to move, yet extremely dangerous when throwing its weight about, the hippo is a difficult beast to hunt.

We’re talking about the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. If your business has a hippo culture, where decisions always seem to defer to the most senior person in the room, just how do you get approval for your content marketing strategy?

I bear the scars of many hippo safaris, some successful and some that failed in dramatic, bone-crushing style. So let me share a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Approach slowly, with caution

Enthusiasm is a good thing. But excitement can also mean your pitch becomes overly ambitious — particularly if you have a hippo standing in front of you. A detailed 100-page proposal to conquer the web in three months might be a work of genius, but will most likely choke a hippo.

Every business I have ever worked for has described itself as fast-moving, decisive and agile. This is never, ever true. The bigger the business, the slower it will be to turn. Plan small steps. Even if you only get approval for the first few tiny activities, you’ve started the turn. Once you can show results, the next steps may be easier to sell.

Present solutions, not diversions

Unless a new activity is directly related to a particular business challenge, it is viewed as a diversion. If the current climate is to reduce costs, outline how you’ll support your social media strategy. If customer acquisition numbers are causing boardroom stress, introduce plans for an email program to prospective clients.

But beware. The problem you offer to solve will define your measurement of success, so choose wisely! It might be tempting to sell a blog strategy to management by explaining the SEO benefits. I have worked with many bosses for whom those three letters have an almost supernatural influence. But within weeks, all other benefits and strategic plans included in your pitch will be forgotten, overshadowed by those three letters. The blog transforms into merely an SEO tactic. And that means its success or failure is judged by the wrong metrics.

Get approval for the right reasons or the hippo will only come back to trample all over your KPIs.

Competitor analysis

There are two kinds of bosses: those who make decisions based on what competitors are doing and those who make decisions based on being first and getting out in front. If you understand which type describes your hippo, use competitor analysis to support your ideas.

Study competitor strategies. Subscribe to their blogs and newsletters. Download white papers. Analyze their social media activity. Break down the results to show your C-level managers where the opportunities and weaknesses are.

Best practice and case studies

We would all like to think our bosses should just trust our skills and experience. But if they push back, it’s usually because our proposal takes them out of their comfort zone.

Back up claims and proposals with evidence, include references to relevant business leaders and build case studies to demonstrate best practice. If you can show proven and practical examples with numbers relevant to your market, you have a much greater chance.

Forgiveness, not permission

While not always advisable, sometimes the proof is in the doing. Depending on what you want to achieve, it may be possible to get started in an informal way and then seek official approval once you have some results.

Many a corporate Twitter account or Facebook page has been started by an enthusiastic staff member making a point. Ensure your tentative steps are responsible and professionally handled. Triggering a social media incident with a rogue campaign could destroy any chances of getting your strategy implemented, and could even cost you your job.

Returning from the hunt

There is no infallible way to hunt hippos. The best hunters usually have a few hippo-sized footprints on their back, scars from previous attempts. Don’t give up. Get out of the mud, take time to heal and approach again from a different angle. You were hired for your skills and experience. It’s your job to convince the hippo of the right course of action.

For more great insight from Jonathan Crossfield, attend our newest event: Content Marketing World,  Sydney Australia, March 4-6, 2013. 

Author: Jonathan Crossfield

If it involves putting words in a row with the occasional punctuation, then Jonathan has most likely given it a bash; from copy writing to screenwriting, blogging to journalism. He has won awards for his articles on digital marketing and his over-opinionated blog, Atomik Soapbox. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.

Other posts by Jonathan Crossfield

  • http://twitter.com/GioiaMagliozzi Gioia Magliozzi

    How did you know this was my case? :-) Thank you. Great piece of information.

  • Doug Kessler

    Excellent post — and really timely.
    We’re finding that our clients — people attracted to Velocity because they ‘get’ content marketing – really need help building business cases to earn some support.

    They’re often selling to senior marketers who didn’t grow up with content marketing but got successful the old-school way.

    Underestimate this challenge at your peril!

  • http://creativecontentexperts.com/ Justyn Hornor

    Great post, Jonathan!

    As a content marketing consultant, I’ve been called in to be the “big gun” as staff try to convince their bosses to launch a campaign. Sometimes they want a big presentation and others it’s a sit down. My preference is ALWAYS a sit down meeting so I can gauge the HIPPO’s priorities first and then form a response.

    It’s all about presenting the right solutions in the right language.

  • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

    Thanks for the comments. I know this is a topic we all struggle with from time to time. To Doug’s point about dealing with “old-school” marketers, I think the issue is helping them see that content marketing isn’t as new or different as they might think, but is merely an evolution of what they were probably doing in some other way twenty or thirty years ago. By explaining it in terms they are used to, relating each part to established techniques, I think more people would get it.