Who Is Going To Implement Your Shiny New Communications Plan?

For the last few weeks, we’ve explored all the parts of today’s communications plan. As a plan is developing, we find somewhere around the strategy and tactical section a familiar feeling begins to set in. Panic. Who is going to do all this?

So, before you begin to launch a new plan (or sell it to the upstairs), be sure you know who (and how) you can enlist the help and support of others.

A former boss of mine once said “marketing is everybody’s job.” I submit communications is, as well. Everyone needing to be on the same page around messaging the organization or project is obvious. But, developing content, agreeing to agree on the “we won’t” list and the main communications channels you’ll focus on are less evident but equally important. Be sure to share your plan with a core team of fellow stakeholders. Focus on getting them excited about what can be accomplished with everyone’s input and contributions. Then, be sure to get their commitment to do something. A few ideas for getting buy-in and commitment:

  • Invite a larger group to go through media and presentation training to prepare them for what is possible.
  • Train people in social media to get them excited about the possibilities (and get them off on the right foot).
  • Consider developing an editorial calendar and “offering” an opportunity to own a topic or category: they develop content, help share it on various channels, and provide further ideas for distributing the message.
  • Ask people to share specific content or stories among their own channels. So, in other words, ask them to retweet, repost, start a discussion and more within their own networks.
  • Be sure to share communication “wins,” such as media hits, speaking engagements and more with the entire organization.

These are just a few ways to share the communications load. But regardless of how you enlist help, be sure to get it before you launch a new communications effort.

Anything to add to the list above?


Measurement: The Most Ignored Section of the Communications Plan?

This section in your communications plan is one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored areas. You may be saying to yourself, of course we’ll be watching what we’re doing and see how well it’s going. But, do you know how you will go about monitoring and capturing the results from your communications work? And, once you see the outcomes, will you understand what they mean and the influence they are having? How will you track the results against your goals and objectives?

First, know how you would know you’ve reached your audience and reached them well. If your communications effort is a success, what will your audience learn from you, what will they understand and believe, and how will they act from now on?

From there, you can identify what is important to measure:

  • actual traffic, such as how often people visited your Web said or other online channels (social or otherwise), how many people attended your speaking engagement or stopped by the trade show booth and more,
  • level of engagement, such as number of comments on blog posts, retweets on twitter, questions at events, conversations going “viral” online and more,
  • extent of interest in your stories, which is often measured by media attention, attendance at speaking engagements, sign-ups to blogs, RSS feeds and more, and
  • a change in attitude or behavior among your target audience members, most often measured formally via market research or sales cycle changes.

Then, set up a monitoring system to track those results. A myriad of online tools exist for tracking traffic and engagement levels. But, we believe it takes a human being to monitor both offline and online conversations and messaging to see if the work is “taking hold.” Someone should be in charge of actively participating in the channels being used to communicate.

If I were to be asked for an ideal measurement scenario, it would include formal market research. Budgetary concerns often make the ability to conduct surveys, studies and focus groups difficult. But, by measuring attitudes and behaviors of your target group via formal market research before the communications plan is executed and then again after the effort, the level of change affected in your target will be much more apparent than just counting up number of media hits and retweets (as important as doing those things are).

Regardless of the measurements you will use, benchmark the results gathered against the milestones you’ve identified for the plan (in addition to goals and objectives) and see how results track over time. In general, communications activities do not produce results over night even in our fast-paced online world. Be sure to set up realistic goals for seeing results.

If you know your target audience well, you should be able to see if the results the communications effort produced are a substantial change or shift in your audience’s understanding about you (and their actions) or not.

Why You Need A Story Section in Your Communications Plan

As we continue to explore the various sections to include in the modern day communications plan, we turn to the heart of your effort: your story. Be sure to include a section in your plan that specifically references the main stories and messages you are going to use.

Of course, this will not include every story. You’ll be pitching unique ideas to the media, developing new content and crafting submessages along the way. However, you should have an inventory of “signature” stories and a high level message guide as part of your plan.

(What? You don’t have a message guide? We can fix that.)  We also can help you with your stories. Yes, there is a difference.)

Your message guide section should include all top level messages from your positioning statement and value proposition to a spotlight pitch and answers to frequently asked questions. It sets the message tone so everyone is clear on how you are going to position the organization at the most basic level. It provides the foundation on which all other messages are developed.

Your story section should include a short inventory of the various customer and client stories you can tell to illustrate what you do, the impact you have and how what you do is better, different and relevant to your target audience. It needn’t include the stories themselves, but rather give some sense of what is available to use. It also will showcase what you may need to develop. Hint: Take a look at your case studies, past media coverage, and customer testimonials to identify themes.

Does this seem like overkill?  You would be surprised at how many organizations do not have this section and then wonder why confusion exists in the marketplace about who they are and what they deliver. Or, why their employee base doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Know what you have to work with from the start. It will get you off on the right foot.

Yet Another Part of Today’s Communications Plan: Choosing the Right Channels

This series exploring each section of the contemporary communications plan has forced me to think deeply about the way the world of image, reputation and visibility has changed in the last few years. One of the greatest changes has been in the number and quality of communication channels.

When broadband made audio and video possible, and platforms such as Facebook and YouTube became widely used, the communications game changed. Now, if it was possible, it was expected. We quickly learned we had to use (or at least explore) those channels or be left behind by competition or find the users themselves taking over the conversation about our companies, people and brands.

But, it also is not possible to do everything. How do you know where to put your energy?

Your choice of channel depends on who you are trying to reach, naturally. But, your decisions also must take into account your appetite and ability to manage interactive discussions, the complexity of your stories and messaging, and your capacity for developing content.

Now that the world has gotten used to such a rich and robust communications environment, it is a good time to pause and think. Which channels actively engage your audience in the way that you need and that will have active influence? (Active influence means you are causing a change and subsequent action. Passive influence means you may introduce them to new thinking but it doesn’t cause them to act – yet).

Three things to think about:

1. Start with the basics. Consider how your audience likes to get information. Through video, like YouTube? Via graphics, like infographics? Through editorial, such as peer-reviewed journals, traditional editorial media or other? Experientially, such as demonstrations at trade shows? From experts, like attending panels, speeches and other speaking venues? From their peers?

2. Make a list of all the channels that are possible. Traditional media outlets (trade, business, consumer), social media channels, industry trade shows and speaking venues, like TED, community events, and organizations, special events (that you organize), direct mail, e-mail, books, and more.

3. What do these channels require to be effective for you? Robust content in the right form and the right amount of interaction is key to making a channel work well. Be realistic about your capacity and resources. Identify where you may need more or where there are opportunities to remerchandise existing content.

This section does not need to cover every channel you may end up using. But, it should give some direction as to where you are going to spend your time and give guidance around what you will need to produce and manage.

The Modern Communications Plan: Strategies and Tactics

Continuing our series on building a modern communications plan, below we discuss choosing strategies and tactics to meet your goals and objectives.

I’ve heard it said one man’s strategy is another man’s tactic. For the purpose of this post, strategy is the “how” or way in which you are going to go about reaching goals and the tactics are the “what” or specific activities.

This section in your communications plan outlines the main strategies you will employ and why. For instance, strategies we often engage include media relations, social media blitzes, trade shows and special events, speaking engagements, publishing, community relations, executive visibility and branding, and more. These activities are entire programs with many moving parts or activities to engage in.

Choosing the appropriate strategies comes from knowing deeply who you are trying to communicate to. Knowing what they care about and what already influences them is key to choosing a strategy that will readily reach them.

For instance, if your audience attends industry events often – and makes decisions because of them – having a strong trade show and special event strategy would be wise. If your audience responds to authority figures and craves direction and guidance from leaders, perhaps elevating your executives via an executive reputation management and branding strategy is the way to go. Your strategy decisions should be well informed by your audience.

But in today’s world, you also need to see how your strategies work together. For instance, what occurs or results from one strategy can benefit another strategy. So, if you determine trade shows and traditional and social media are strategies to use, what can occur at the trade show to provide fodder for the media work? Can you see video taping media interviews, panel presentations and customer interactions to provide content for your social media channels?  Seeing the ties is important to ensure you are being efficient, remerchandising original content across several channels, utilizing spokespeople strategically and making sure all communications channels are working together.

Main Tactics
This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis to move the communications effort forward. If media relations is part of your strategy mix, then how are you going to go about executing that program? Pitch story ideas, make announcements (and what kind and how often?) via press releases, attempt editorial coverage in trade media or the business press or other? Will you need an internal editorial calendar to motivate internal staff to contribute?

The tactical section informs the resources needed and timeline you must employ. Get as detailed as you believe you need to, depending on the size and characteristics of your communications execution team. Some people need a detailed road map, while others do not. Regardless, put at least the highest level tactics into a master calendar.

Know some strategies are not easily predicted, such as media relations and social media efforts. They are iterative in nature and require your ability to be agile and act on unforeseen results. For instance, you may issue some news and find 12 target media outlets interested in the story. You may have to drop everything to handle the interest. Or, you may find you’ll have to push your stories and messages harder than first anticipated. Build in some room in your timeline to manage the level of success (or failure) that is reached.

Tomorrow we will discuss choosing main communications channels.

The Modern Communications Plan Should Include A List Of Things NOT To Do

Continuing our modern communications planning series, we turn to the next section called The “We Won’t” list. This list is simply a list of things you will not get into until it makes sense or it’s better than other ideas. (This idea is blatantly borrowed from Tom Peter’s “To Don’t” List idea.) I renamed it “We Won’t” because most communications plans are by organizations involving many people executing the plan.

In today’s fast paced world, the pull to try every new shiny object is great. Resist. Note that this is not a call to stop exploring new ideas. In fact, you should be checking out everything that is proving to be well used, a best practice and on-the-surface workable. Explore away. Just don’t set yourself up for failure by putting things on paper that you will never have the resources, inclination or justification to do.

Rather, start by brainstorming every communication idea, channel, and strategy that seems – at first blush – a really good idea to at least consider. Now take an objective look at that list.

  • Which ones are most closely aligned with your goals (meaning, you will be able to fairly easily communicate to them there, in that way, with that strategy)?
  • Which ones are “nice to have?”
  • Which ones are the “cool kid on the block” that you believe you should explore but can’t quite justify yet?
  • Which ones make complete sense?
  • Which ones are proven but don’t quite fit your audience or your goals?

Start adding those things that you could do, but which you know won’t get you to where you want to be, to the “We Won’t” list.

I am not saying every unproven idea is a bad one. Rather, take the route that William Buffet did when investing. If you can’t see a future in it, pause and see if one can be made. Assess the risk, especially against the strategies and channels (and resources you have!) that you know will work. If they don’t stack up, walk away.

Expect internal pushback on this activity. Expect a lot of inner dialogue and second guessing yourself. Just remember that this list isn’t concrete. Things do change. I mean, who could have predicted Pinterest would take off so much in the last few months? (If you are an interior design company, in the food industry, or sell fashion, you better be paying attention).

But, do go through this exercise and name a few things to take off the table. It will keep you focused on what makes sense for your vision, goals and objectives. And, having a written list will remind you of why you are doing what you chose to be doing.

Is Media Relations Dead?

I interrupt our series of developing a modern communications plan, to bring you the following post. We will resume our communications planning series on Thursday, March 8.

I spent a great deal of my communications career, especially in the early days, pitching reporters story ideas. If I were to be completely honest it was meant to get my clients ink or broadcast. We in the PR field call(ed) this activity “media relations.”

This meant we were attempting to get a dialogue going with a staff reporter/editor, producer or paid freelancer. We would tell them a story idea and we hoped they would “bite,” causing them to want to learn more, write about it and quote (in a positive light) a client. Whole PR agencies dedicated themselves to this activity starting, oh, sometime in the late 1980s through, oh, about 2008 (give or take).

But, then something happened. The media as we knew it started to fade right about the time the Internet was taken over by the people (read: social media).

The demise of traditional media is well documented. Some declare it dead. Others say objective journalism will find a new home and rise again to new heights. Some say it’s making a comeback. But, regardless of the outcome, the question is still begging to be asked: Is media relations – as we know it – dead? 

With the rise of social media giving a platform for anyone and everyone to tell their own story directly to the masses, not to mention the rise of homemade video and infographics, is there room or even a need for that third party credibility that a professionally written story about you (or our clients) provide?

Why spend hours trying to convince a reporter to give you that one quote in a 1,500 word story (down from 3,000 ten years ago) that may or may not be read by anyone you need to see it because there is just so much out there to see, overall? Also, today we hear more reporters asking us to write for them. “Can you deliver 750 words on that by next week?” is heard far more often now than, “great, let me interview your CEO.” We also find it more difficult to know who is a staff reporter and who is a “guest columnist.”

It’s enough to make you question the activity altogether. But, perhaps we are just thinking about it all wrong. Perhaps the activity of spreading a story needs to be broadened and renamed.

Rather than media relations, how about calling it storyteller relations?

After all, the “media” can be almost anyone today. If we see everyone as a potential storyteller of our stories, wouldn’t we see more traction for them across all mediums? Attempting  to interest whoever is influencing our target audiences to help spread the word about us and what we’re up to might be the better path.

What do you think?