And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. ~Robert Frost
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?
Objects in pictures should so be arranged as by their very position to tell their own story. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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.
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.
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.
Of course it’s the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story. ~Margaret Thatcher
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.