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Marketers often talk about the challenge of reaching particular audiences and CEOs are regarded as one of the most challenging audiences of all. But if we are honest, 'reaching' CEOs is not an issue: their lives are often carefully regimented by others and we know where to find them, how they travel and the type of media they consume. The real challenge is getting their attention once you've reached them. How can we engage rather than interrupt them – and avoid being ignored?

Last year, we interviewed 20 C-level executives at blue-chip companies in Europe and the US to question preconceptions about their behaviour and help us understand how best to engage CEOs with commercial communication. We were also interested in how CEOs react to being targeted within the “travel corridor” – one of the most common environments for reaching them. While we talked only to board-level managers of the largest organisations, what we learned about effective communication provides general rules for effective business-to-business communication. Our research reveals that CEOs are likely to be in a state of partial attention when you try to reach them. This means that although they may appear focused on a particular task, they also have an eye or ear open for anything relevant to them.