Five Steps to Audit Your Communications Today

When is the last time you took a hard look at your communication efforts? Your public relations, advertising, marketing communications, social media outreach, community relations, materials, web site, marketing collateral and more are all part of your overall communications mix. Here are five steps to reviewing your communications work to better their effectiveness.

  1. Take inventory. List all the vehicles and channels you actively use to engage customers. No, that doesn’t mean everything. To make this process manageable, focus only on the things that directly and specifically fall under your marketing and/or communications team.
  2. Identify patterns. Do you see any common language used? Common visuals? At the same time, identify counter messaging, where you say one thing one place, but say another in another place. Why is that? Does this mean your team on the same page? You’ll want to reconcile any differences.
  3. Match up each communications activity against who you’re trying to attract. Are they having the impact you desire? You measure these activities, right? List everything that works well, what doesn’t, and what requires further measurement.
  4. Identify what is missing. There’s always something missing. Can you introduce a new strategy or tactic and eliminate what isn’t working? (Say yes.)
  5. Recalibrate your communications plan with this intelligence.

While you should be monitoring regularly, a full communications audit is warranted at least once a year.

The Modern Communications Plan: The Final Steps

This summer, we explored the major steps for developing a Modern Communications Plan. Now it’s time to wrap it up. The final steps include identifying who will execute this beautiful new plan and developing a timeline of activities (and results).

Step eleven is identifying and naming your team players. A plan is only as good as its outcomes, and someone has to be responsible for execution. Who will be accountable for the plan overall, and who will execute the various steps? Do you need to hire additional help or can your in-house team handle the activities scheduled? Also, be sure to do a skills inventory to make sure you have the right skill sets in place. Identify where additional training might be required.

Step twelve is your timeline. By when do you expect your activities to be in full swing, and when do you reasonably expect outcomes? You can do this by week, month or quarter depending on the complexity of your plan and your ambitions. The larger and more diverse your audience, the longer it takes to change their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs.

You’ll notice I included no section for budget. Every organization is different around money. Some know exactly how much they want to spend and will tell you up front. Others wish to see a plan with a budget attached before making a decision. Regardless, began to talk about money early and as the various stages are being discussed. The plan will usually tell you how much you need to spend to be effective. Decisions can be made from there.

One last note: As your plan unfolds, be sure to check in often to see how it’s working. How is your team doing? How are they feeling about the outcomes? Do not be afraid to adjust your plan if a reasonable amount of time has passed and the desired results are not being achieved. Now that you have a template to rely on (and appropriate research about your audience under your belt), you are able to make educated adjustments as necessary.

Find the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

Next up? We’ll explore Positioning, Messaging and Storytelling, including exercises you can take your team through to get your started on assessing, developing and recasting your language for greater results.

Part Eight of the Modern Communications Plan: Content Strategy

As we continue this series of planning your communications, we hope you’re seeing where you may strengthen your public relations, advertising and marketing communications efforts.

This next topic — content strategy — is often where too many companies start their communications efforts. For one, developing content, like blog posts, white papers, marketing brochures and more, seems like a good communication move no matter where you are in the process. But if you haven’t identified your vision, goals and objectives, identified your target audience, including where they are (i.e. communications channels) and designed a strategy around reaching them, what makes you think your content will get noticed?

But let’s say you are ready for step eight: Content Strategy. This is not to be confused with just putting words down on paper. In today’s modern world, how your content will be displayed also is key.

For instance,if your audience is swayed by research and data, how you present that information can make or break the effectiveness of that entire effort. It’s why infographics have gained popularity. It’s a visual way to represent a lot of information so its more easily digested.

Consider a content strategy as how you are going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct  conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.

Start with listing your “big ideas.” What do you want people to walk away with from your content? Go beyond just “buy my product.” Rather, what ideas do you have around your products and services that others don’t? What’s unique about your viewpoint?

Is there a call to action? Are you asking people to do something they’ve never done before? If so, you may have to justify that request with data. Or, perhaps you’re trying to change behavior. Why should they? What compelling case can you make and how can you deliver that message that is different and will break through any barriers to change?

How is your content furthering your identity? For example, if you’re selling something fun, your content better be delivered in a fun manner. If your goal is to be taken seriously, then your content should be designed to reflect that.

What are your audiences pain points? Can your content help further their own goals?

These are just a few things to ask yourself when designing a content strategy.

Read the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

Part 8- Content Strategy

 

Why Virgin America Might Not Need PR

Business travel is no fun. The hassle of airline security, long lines at rental car counters and hotel check-ins killed the glamour of travel years ago. But recently I had the good fortune to fly on Virgin America cross country. It was my first experience traveling on that airline (sitting on hands to not make a bad joke here), and now I’m wondering what took me so long.

For those of you have flown Virgin many times will not find my experience particularly revolutionary. But for me that trip contrasted sharply with my usual travel experience. For days I reflected on why the experience was so much better than the “others.”

Was it because I could order food and drink at any time from my seat via my own personal embedded video monitor? No matter I paid $8.25 for a small fruit and cheese plate. I ordered it from my seat, when I wanted to. No food and beverage cart service.

Could it have been the catchy rap-fueled safety message also delivered via video? For the first time since I was twelve years old, I listened to the safety spiel because, well, it was fun.

Or could my great experience have been heightened by the modern music at the ticket counter? The red and purple neon lighting along the floor board? The extra seat room even in economy class?

Or the fact the pilot’s voice joked with us during a turbulent moment, asking us to fasten our seat belts — after we peeled ourselves off the ceiling, of course?

That was it. The people. From the person behind the ticket counter to the flight attendants I encountered real people—relaxed people. They were pleasant with us at the gate, during the flight, and even when we stood six people deep in the back, essentially blocking the crew’s maneuverability. Not once did I feel corralled like cattle going to auction. In fact, there was a notable lack of “herding.”

Virgin avoided regiment without forgetting there are still rules to flying. I felt like we were all in this together. We were all trying to get somewhere—passengers to destinations, and an airline to profitability. My experience tells me they are succeeding in every way.

I don’t know if Virgin has much public relations help, or even if they need it. But I do know, I’ll fly with them again, even when it means sacrificing frequent flier miles with another airline. Feeling like a human being who is dealing with other human beings is worth it.

Next time you think you have a public relations problem consider you might have a customer experience problem. Ask yourself, how do your customers feel when they’ve arrived?

The #1 PR Trend to Watch in 2014

Are we done with all the “top trends” and “top ten” lists for 2014 yet? I waited a few weeks to let the noise die down before putting forth our own predictions for 2014. Now, after talking to colleagues in the industry, as well as a dozen or so executives, one trend seems to be rising above all others.

Quality over quantity.

If you aren’t producing quality content, speaking to the right people in the right venues, and earning media attention that is seen by your most important customers, now and in the future, why bother? Gone are the days of scooping up a hundred earned media articles on you and your company and declaring success. What did that coverage do? Did it reach who you needed it to?

Ask yourself those last two questions when considering public relations strategies and tactics.

You might realize an enviable SEO position – for one day – with numbers. You might see a surge in phone calls or see your Web site visits rise for a time. But, none of it will sustain a business’s reputation and image without a fundamental commitment to quality. This means robust stories in media that make a difference to you. The right people as spokespeople who know how to engage audiences. Quality business values that connect with customers. Content that engages, gets passed around, discussed and kept for future reference.

(Oh, and it should go without saying you’re providing a superior service or product.)

Wise leaders not only know this basic tenet for longevity, they act on it. What are you doing in 2014 to boost the quality of everything you do — especially in the realm of public relations?

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Public Relations Questions To Answer For Results in 2014

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve added a new blog post. However, the reason is why this new post exists. We’ve been very busy at Four Leaf, readying several major client announcements for the Fall. What many business leaders may not realize is this: to announce something in October, you need to start in April. Hence, Four Leaf’s all-hands-on-deck craziness that ensued this summer to make sure everything goes smoothly for said clients in coming weeks.

So, want to start 2014 with a bang? Now’s the time to think about any initiatives you want to debut, make known or push forward in January. Below are five steps to take to make first quarter 2014 a time to remember.

1. How do you want people to think about you and your initiatives in January?

2. Who is going to be the most important person or group for you in 2014? Has it changed from 2013?

3. Do you know what makes your best customers sit up and take notice? (i.e. Your ability to provide a “personal touch,” your commitment to excellence, your price point, etc.)

4. What content (i.e. thought leadership, tutorial information, helpful messages) will they need to understand how you’re better and different? Are you prepared to deliver it by January?

5. How will you get the word out to them? No, really. How? Advertising, PR, social channels, marketing, direct sales, CEO-to-CEO*? Will that put you ahead of your competitors?

*Intrigued by CEO-to-CEO? We’ll blog on this soon.

 

What Not To Worry About

We are about six weeks into the new year and thought it was high time to check in. While most are sharing how they think the new year is shaping up, we’re taking a different tact.  Rather than rehash the same old public relations trends, we’re going to share the things you needn’t worry about, communications wise, in 2013.

1. How many people are in your social networks. Really. The question is, do you have the right people following you, posting on your channels, and engaging with you?

2. How many awards you are winning. Kudos are nice. But, do you have the clients you want? Do you have the kind of work you want? Are you being profitable?

3. How much volunteer work you are doing. We are all for pro bono work. We do much of it ourselves. But, are you ignoring your profitable work for affairs of the heart?

4. When you are working. Yes, you should be available when clents need you. But, when does your best work happen? Work then.

5. If Washington, Wall Street and Main Street will work it out. If you watch enough news you might want to throw in the towel (or other things). Ask yourself, am I doing the best I can today and are we making progress?

Starting Off The New Year Right

Happy new year to you and yours! At Four Leaf, we make a habit of starting off each new year in retrospect. What worked? What didn’t? How did our outcomes for clients compare to the year before? Did anything take us by surprise? If we could anything over, what would it be, and why?

As you wrap up 2012 and start fresh this month, what questions will be you be asking yourself? January is a terrific time to conduct a communications audit, especially if you haven’t taken stock of the image you are portraying, the reputation you’ve been building, and the stories you’ve been telling – even indirectly – over the last 12 months.

  1. What are the top 5 stories about you or you company that you tried to tell in 2012? How were they received? Did they impact your brand or reputation?
  2. How did your media coverage, social media presence, thought leadership and marketing outreach fare compared to the year prior? Did you see an increased number of conversations, media mentions and requests for more information?
  3. Do your stories and messages, graphic identity and marketing outreach activities “match” and support one another? Or did everything grow “organically and you now have a patchwork quilt?
  4. Do you know who you are trying to reach? And, how did you inform them of your business?
  5. How did your communications effort fare against the competitor’s communications?

Answer these five questions and you’ll be on your way to better understanding where you should invest in communications (or not) in 2013.

Yes, You Can Measure Communications Against Specific Objectives. Here’s How

On Tuesday, I wrote about communications measurement and how influence, attitude and behavior change should be measured in addition to eyeballs, butts in seats, clicks and follows. Number of followers, re-tweets, event attendance and web site spikes are all well and good. But, to sustain any real impact from a communications effort, you need to know how much your communications are influencing an audience’s way of thinking and acting. Below are just a few ways to measure against the top 6 communications objectives.

Objective 1: Visibility (positioning and awareness)
Ways to measure:
• Before and after surveys
• Focus groups
• Social media conversations, particularly changes in message, penetration and sharing
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), including competitors’ placements and messages, message penetration, tone, and coverage compared to competitors
• Blog and article comments
• Web site statistics

Objective 2: Influence and persuasion (issues management, attitude and behavior changes)
Ways to measure:
• Before and after surveys
• Focus groups
• Social media conversations, particularly changes in message, penetration and sharing
• Blog and article comments
• Comparisons of competitor services and products to yours
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), including competitors’ placements and messages, message penetration, tone, and coverage compared to competitors
• Opinion polls
• Rulings, policies and legislation on issues
• Sales of services and products in your industry, overall

Objective 3: Volume attention (sales, attendance, web and social media traffic)
Ways to measure:
• Sales volume (spikes or dips before, during and after campaigns)
• Incoming calls and e-mails
• Event attendance
• Web and blog traffic
• Sudden increases of fans, followers and subscribers of social channels
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), particularly in trade niches
• Google statistics

Objective 4: Recognition & Appreciation (kudos, awards, sales support)
Ways to measure:
• Number of new, warm leads
• Sales force feedback
• Unsolicited RFPs earned
• Number of referrals
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), particularly in trade niches
• Media coverage analysis (against competitor media coverage)
• Key message delivery through media and social channels
• Number of “shares” of presentations, PowerPoints and slide shows via online channels

Objective 5: Employee recruiting and retention/employee communication
Ways to measure:
• Number of unsolicited resumes and outreach received from potential employees
• Number of resumes and outreach received from job postings
• Employee surveys
• Comparison of media and social channel coverage of organization (particularly employee sentiment)
• Awards for “best places to work” and the like
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), particularly in trade niches
• Overall retention rates

Objective 6: Investor perception (stock value, investor and analyst attention)
Ways to measure:
• Stock trading volume and activity in relation to communications campaign
• Analyst and adviser recommendations
• Analyst surveys
• P/E multiple in relation to peer group and competitors
• Stock price volatility relative to peer group and competitors
• Media coverage analysis (before and after campaigns), particularly in business and financial press
• Media coverage analysis of analyst commentary

How do you measure the effectiveness of your communications?

Communications Measurement Is About Showing Progress, Not Just Number Of Followers

Measuring the value and promise of communications and PR, in particular, has been an ongoing conversation in organizations, in board rooms and in the industry itself. Everybody wants it, not many know how to do it.

Getting crystal clear on your objectives is job number one. There are many reasons to have a communications effort:
• Visibility (positioning and awareness)
• Influence and persuasion (issues management, attitude and behavior changes)
• Volume attention (sales, attendance, web and social media traffic)
• Recognition & appreciation (kudos, awards, sales support)
• Employee recruiting and retention/employee communication
• Investor perception (stock value, investor and analyst attention)

From there, more exact goals and objectives should be identified. It’s not enough to just say you want to generate buzz. (Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries did that just fine, but was that kind of visibility a goal? Well, maybe.) You need to be more specific. This will help you focus on the impact that is made over just volume attention.

Next, identify what would directly and what would indirectly identify the impact a communications outcome will have.

For instance, if one of your goals is to develop a stronger pipeline of sales leads, you may engage in a speaking engagement program where you speak at many seminars and conferences where potential customers attend. Attendance at those events, number of after-presentation conversations, and web site statistics spiking (or not) are typical measurements. But those measurements don’t really identify the impact your speech had on the potential clients’ way of thinking, their conversations with peers after the event and what they tweeted, posted or commented upon online after your presentation was different than what they believed before, and how that unidentified reporter sitting way in the back changed his story because of what you said.

Numbers are good. But, numbers with the additional layer of attitude and behavior changes are better. How do you do that?

Furthering our measurement program for developing a more robust sales pipeline, other measurements to include would be:
• Before and after surveys (of conference attendees) (What piqued their interest?)
• Focus groups (Have beliefs and behaviors changed?)
• Feedback from the sales force before the year of conference hopping and after (Did they notice any changes?)
• Conference media coverage (Did it include you or rather instead include the competition?)
• Google analytics summaries (Did traffic come from the conferences?)
• Media, blog and social channel “audits” before and after a year of conference appearances (Did the conversation change?)

In the end, communication efforts take time to influence. Measurement takes time, too. But, the investment of resources, including your time and energy, is well worth the labor.

On Thursday, I’ll take each macro objective and provide a list of potential measurements to consider.