In this episode my guest Jaakko Tapaninen writes executive content for executives in Finland, helping them create, deliver and govern strategic content.
He was producing a popular Finnish-language podcast 10X Finland for several years before recently relaunching it as the Hybrid Times Podcast.
Listen to the full conversation with Jaakko about the importance of executives and CEOs producing content to align with their company’s long term goals.
Or read a selected excerpt below.
➤ When you meet someone new and then they ask you what do you do for work, what is your answer?
I tell them that I’m an entrepreneur, I have my own company. I usually tell them that it’s a small company and that my company focuses on something called executive content. Then they ask, ‘What’s executive content?’. We can talk about how I sort of gravitated towards this but executive content means helping executives, usually CEOs, with their own content in their own channels when they do blogs, when they write newsletters, when they do their own podcast, when they prepare presentations.
So I’m not helping them with PR in the traditional sense, like trying to get magazines or newspapers to write about them. I help them speak directly to their own audiences and the reason they need help with this is – of course, they’re all very smart – some of them have challenges in, for example, written expression. A professional can help them structure their thoughts and express their thoughts.
But the main thing is that they are super busy and coming up with good content takes some time. I can give them that time and that professional experience and my craft. It’s usually a lot of fun and they enjoy it because they get to talk about the things that they are really interested in, in a free manner. They don’t have to worry about structure, expression, things like that. They just talk to me and then I turn it into a piece.
➤ So is it similar to being a ghostwriter?
Very similar in many cases but then I’m also a consultant when I do this, so we might discuss what would be a good article right at this point. And then we come back to the company’s strategy. I always try to see what we do through strategy. My forte is not tactical content, getting people to buy something today. My specialty is strategic content, meaning doing content that serves their long-term goals.
Sometimes it’s ghostwriting but usually it’s more than that. It’s what I call it executive content or strategic content.
➤ How did you begin your career?
Well when you say, ‘How did you begin your career?,’ how far back should we start? Because it starts like when I’m 17 and in the United States as an exchange student and I find new journalism and I fall in love with that way of expressing things. That later turns me into a journalist and an editor and a book publisher and then I continue my career, I become a CEO in a media company. So it’s a long road.
➤ So you started in journalism and then, when you say media company, what kind of media company?
It’s a company called Kotimaa where I was the CEO before I went rogue. It’s owned by the Lutheran church of Finland. It was a media company, they had books, they had newspapers, they had new media, all sorts of things and they even made organs like those they play in a church and candles for churches. So they had a full buffet and I went there because that was my chance. I mean, I had done everything else in media except be a real CEO so I wanted to try that.
Our turnover was 25 million and we had 125 employees and so it was a nice outfit but I started there 2010 and after like, two years the perfect storm of social media and a few other things hit the company and I had to restructure and fire people and sell parts of it and do all that and when I was in the middle of that process I felt I had to make a choice. Am I going to kind of sink with this ship? – meaning, stay in the old media and try to make something profitable that I couldn’t see ever be profitable in this new environment or should I reinvent myself?
I decided that I’d go for the latter and reinvent myself. That meant turning into an entrepreneur and starting my own content marketing company. I did all kinds of content marketing because I saw that this could be part of the future.
When I speak about this, there’s sadness because I loved the old world of newspapers and magazines. I loved running those papers or magazines, I’ve loved being an editor, I loved being a reporter, it was great fun. And I enjoyed reading them – I still subscribe to some newspapers and magazines and I love the moment when I can focus on them.
➤ You still subscribe to hard copies or online?
Yeah, hard copies. Of course online too but hard copies – I don’t care whether it’s old-fashioned or not but I just love it.
➤ I do too, it’s always great to have a real book in your hands. I’m talking about books now but yeah, now only in the past few months I’ve transitioned almost exclusively to reading on the tablet. Just because of the sheer numbers – I can have 70 books right now on my tablet and just scroll through them and I can read them at night without having the light on. So I’m trying to resist but resistance is futile. I’m slowly giving in to the new world.
I mean my house is filled with books but to me books are not about quantity they’re about quality I love to pick up one and focus on that instead of having 70 on my tablet and scroll through them. I kind of understand like, going on vacation and having a tablet with you but I mean there’s also strange pleasure in digging deeper into a physical book and seeing how you’re approaching it. There’s something very special about that.
➤ By the way this is a really new thing. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Naval Ravikant.
Of course! His new podcast with Tim Ferriss is fantastic.
➤ He’s the best! So basically Naval was the one who changed me. He said ‘Give yourself permission to not finish books.’ That changed me because I realized until then, I was like, ‘I’m stuck on this one book and I can’t move on to something else until I finish it, so I’m forcing myself to finish this thing.’ And now I have a bunch of books and I just jump back and forth between them and it’s so much more beneficial for me.
Oh I listened to the same thing and it had the same effect on me. Although I used to be a book publisher and as a book publisher there’s no way you can ever read everything that you should read. So you learn these techniques like when you’re sent manuscripts, you read a few pages and you already know whether the person can write or not and you don’t read the stuff that is so badly written that you don’t want to continue or if there’s nothing interesting in it. So you learn to stop and you learn to skim. Also reading professionally, being a publisher and reading is different from reading for yourself. When I’m not reading for my personal enjoyment or education I’ve had this idea that you should read the whole book and then you’re right, I listened to the same conversation with Naval and that changed me. Today, I don’t think I have to finish books. I think I can put them back on the shelf.
➤ Naval set us free!
➤ Tell me about your projects. I know you have 10x and you just told me you have a new podcast.
10x podcasts has just been reborn as Hybrid Times podcast. I started the 10x podcast four years ago because when I started my journey as an entrepreneur. I wanted to learn as much about the strange times we lived in, especially the change in media and I started exploring that together with my friend Marko Ahtisaari. We decided that we’d write a book about the changing media environment and its social and economic effects and we called experts around the world. We talked to Joi Ito at MIT, we talked to Bret Easton Ellis, all kinds of people, and then distilled a book in which we tried to explain the effect of digitalization on media and on society.
We focused on something called the 10x effect or 10x idea which means that when you are improving a traditional analog product, you improve it a little bit and then you say you have a new version of it. But when you’re approaching things in the digital space you’re trying to do something that is at least 10 times better than what’s out there – it should be 10 times faster, 10 times cheaper, 10 times more fun to use and you can win big with that. That’s the new world and we explored that and wrote about it in our book called 10x Finland. We tried to see Finland through this 10x lens too.
And then because I’d been listening to podcasts, it attracted me. I started my own podcast called 10x Finland and there I interviewed mostly entrepreneurs and some other experts too from different fields like athletes and investors and people like that but mostly entrepreneurs, about their life, about their story but also how they saw the societal change and how they saw digital opportunities in their personal life, in their company’s life and sort of in broader context too.
I did that for almost four years but during the last year already before the pandemic, I started thinking that this podcast is about looking for digital opportunities, it sees digitalization as something that is going to happen in the future and I started to get this growing feeling that it has happened already. Digitalization is here. It’s all over the place, we’re living it. And it has shaped our lives. So instead of looking at digitalization, virtualization, as something that is yet to come, that is an opportunity, we should look at it as the water we’re swimming in.
Also, because I’m interested in societal change too, not just business, I wanted to broaden it a little bit. And then during the pandemic the whole world moved into the internet, digitalization took a giant leap and I felt that now is the time to rebrand the show.
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