Phyllis PianoPhyllis J. Piano
I always dreamed of writing a book, but could never find the time during my 30-plus years in corporate communication. After I left the full-time corporate grind, I finally did it, and my first novel, “Hostile Takeover: A Love Story,” was published October 4.

I called upon my business and communications experience in writing this novel, and it’s amazing how the details of both the most dramatic and mundane workdays can contribute to the development of a riveting plot narrative. If you aspire to write but don’t know where to start, here are a few ways being a chief communications officer helped me. Maybe they can help you too.

Use corporate communications to enhance your love of writing. I started my corporate career as a communication specialist, single-handedly producing a weekly newsletter (this was pre-Internet). Writing was at the core of everything I did throughout my career, so I continued to sharpen my skills over the years, taking on more and more complex projects.

Practice makes perfect; hone your skills with a diverse and challenging set of assignments, and learn from the best. I was mentored by some excellent writers in each of my jobs, and I tried to learn and improve my skills in each role, even when I was the CCO. Continue to expand your responsibilities and seek out the most skilled writers. Hint: the speechwriters are really good at what they do!

Write as others. Chief communications officers must write in different and distinctive voices as they draft speeches, employee emails, press releases and other internal and external communications for the CEO, head of operations, executive vice president of research and development and myriad other executives. Crafting materials on behalf of others in my job really helped when it came to creating a diverse set of characters, both women and men, for my first novel.

Hostile Takeover: A Love Story

Put your experience with publishing to work. Like a lot of CCOs, I had the opportunity to work on a number of non-fiction books about the CEO, company, products or workplace best practices, coordinating with authors, researchers and fact-checkers. This gave me a leg up when I started working with the staff at my publishing house.

Spin a tale. CCOs need to know how to tell a story, most often about a product, company, executive, best practice or exceptional employee. Using the storytelling skills I developed over the years in the corporate setting helped me to create my first novel.

Use real-life experience and conflict to inspire fictional events. CCOs see and experience a lot, from high level disagreements, stressful challenges to the company, staff dysfunction and all kinds of high drama. All of this can be a launching point for fiction writing, from the smallest detail to a major storyline.

Edit, edit, edit. CCOs are responsible for making the organization’s communications the best possible for all audiences. When corporate communications are disseminated broadly, there are plenty of eyes on it and, generally, different perspectives make those communications better. Editing your novel multiple times — until you can’t look at it again — and getting other perspectives and input is critical.

Use real-life knowledge of laws, regulations and guidelines to add authenticity to your writing. Molly, the main character in my novel, is a lawyer. I wasn’t, but I sure worked with plenty of them over the years as a CCO, helping me to shape my character accurately. I also worked closely with many HR professionals and understood employee practices and rules, and this knowledge came in handy for certain plot twists.

Put your pubic relations and marketing experience to work in promoting your novel. I spent my corporate communication career promoting companies, products and others. It was tough to turn the spotlight on myself and my own work, but I had a real advantage because I learned what good looks like by collaborating with so many talented professionals over the years. My design and electronic communications experience came in handy as well when I worked with my publisher on the cover design of my book and website, I actually had fun discovering more about book publishing public relations. There’s always something new to learn!

Mobilize your contacts. Most CCOs have a pretty good Rolodex, so ask for help in getting your book out there. It’s a really crowded landscape for books — particularly for new authors — so be creative in seeing assistance from your contacts who are influential and are willing to help.


Phyllis Piano spent more than 30 years working in Fortune 500 companies, serving as an officer and chief communication officer in several. She is a member of the International Advisory Committee of APCO Worldwide. Her first novel, “Hostile Takeover: A Love Story,” was published in October 2016.