5 Ways To Kickstart Your PR Efforts When Your Muse Has Fled

It’s the start of a new year. You should be energized, right? Ready to hit the ground running and fresh ideas should be bubbling up like a Colorado spring, right? Perhaps.

What if that’s not happening? What if every idea you have feels stale and unoriginal?

Here are five things to do to kickstart your public relations efforts if your muse is no where in sight.

  1. Spend a whole day doing things differently. From the route you take to work to moving your ‘office’ to the conference room instead of your desk, change the scenery. Then, change other things like the time you go to lunch, the colors on your desktop, the font you use in word documents. These small, seemingly inconsequential changes will disrupt any complacency that has set in. They also aren’t permanent; if the changes have the opposite effect, you can easily revert to “doing things the way you always had.” (But that’s not why you’re reading this list, is it?)
  2. Declare a “no screen” day. Get off the computer, phone, television and more. Pick up a pen and paper, go outside and walk around. Do anything to give yourself a break from reacting to what’s in front of you. This will give your mind (and eyes) a break to do what it does best—think.
  3. Interview your team. Ask your colleagues the number one lesson they’ve learned in their careers or about your business. Ask them why they are here, what they love about their job and their single most proud working moment since joining your company. From their answers, develop “Why I Do What I Do” pieces and other human interest stories to spruce up your web site, newsletters, social channels and more.
  4. Visit the physical place where your customers live. It’s tempting to let others, market research and the online world tell you all about your customers. But when was the last time you visited a store–or other physical place–where your customers buy your products or services? If you don’t sell something physical, when was the last time you sat down with your customer in their office? Observe how they operate, what language they use when talking to you and how they interact with others in their office. Take notes. Now compare that to how you’ve been talking to them or about them from your office. See any differences?
  5. Go through the last year’s worth of research, data-mining, media interviews and white papers and select a few interesting nuggets. Develop visual memes and soundbites that you can spread over social channels or send to bloggers and reporters to spice up their coverage. In other words, think about everything you’re trying to say visually. Forget words for a minute…or two.

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 Ten of the Modern Communications Plan: How will you know it’s working?

Business leaders across the globe ask this question (nearly daily) of their team: how do we know our communications work? As someone who’s been in the communications field for more than thirty years, the answer is rarely cut and dried. But no effort should be embarked upon without having some idea of how you’ll tell how you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.

Measurement and evaluation are critical elements of every communications plan in order to validate results of your efforts, make course corrections, and develop better strategies and tactics.

Entire books have been written about communications measurement, but below are some thoughts to get your started.

Consider these five basic measurement points, liberally borrowed from the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications framework.

  1. Exposure and Awareness: How will we know people viewed our messages at all? Are they aware of the issues and options we bring to them?
  2. Knowledge and Understanding: Do they understand what we are trying to say or do? Does it make sense to them?
  3. Interest and Consideration: Will people listen to our viewpoints? If given the choice, will our offering be considered?
  4. Support and Preference: Will our viewpoints and offerings be chosen? Will people reference us?
  5. Action and Real Behavior Change: Will our viewpoints and offerings incite specific actions, usually meaning will they buy our products and services or change the way they’ve done something in the past or take a different action.

Most communications efforts rely on simple metrics such as web site visits, social media ‘likes,’ ‘follows,’ and shares, email ‘opens’ and other number-based measurements to understand the above. But by adding a healthy mix of market research, polls and surveys, content analysis and share of discussion, and lead sourcing, you’ll be far ahead of your competitors in the measurement and evaluation game.

If you care about your return-on-investment for PR, advertising and other communications activities, you’d be wise to plan how you’ll measure before you launch any campaign.

Find the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

 

 

 

Part Nine of the Modern Communications Plan: Messaging, Positioning and Storytelling

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Now we get to a fun part of communications planning: what you want to say.

Every modern communications plan should include a positioning, messaging and storytelling guide.

When you have a guide you are positioning your staff to be more successful in executing your strategies. It also brings consensus to employees, senior management, business units and divisions about where the organization is headed. Having an arsenal of messages to use is key to creating a strong brand and making your communications plan stay on target and be effective.

Note that I used the word “guide.” It should have enough detail to provide the right tone, top-level messages and language to help people be creative but not stray so far that they are making up their own ideas about what you’re trying to get across

It may include a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch to start, with an arsenal of anecdotes and proof points, to help the people tasked with executing the plan develop more specific and detailed messages for content and presentations.

Why is having a guide so important? Whether you know it or not, when it comes to describing your organization, products and services, you are delivering messages that set people on a path to either include you or exclude you from their future. People also naturally fall into a default way of speaking and writing. Without identifying your language, you’re leaving it up to their employees to describe the good works and products you offer in whatever way they choose. You wouldn’t leave your finances up to chance, so why treat your communications that way?

Four Leaf has a proprietary technique that involves a series of facilitated meetings with an organization’s leadership over several weeks in addition to background and intelligence-gathering about the organization, its market and its customers to help set the stage for educated message development.

Below are a number of exercises to get your started:

  • Develop a “good word, bad word” list: What words do you always want associated with you, and which words do you never want said about you? Dig deep. What powerful words, if spoken by a referral source, might get someone to act? Also, don’t just choose bad words opposite of the good words. What could people say about you, but you wish they didn’t? What buzz words in your industry have no power left in them? (e.g. solutions)
  • What is unique about your products and services that no one else can claim?
  • You started this communications planning route with an idea in mind. What was it? How would you prioritize your ideas? What’s the most important idea to get across?
  • If you could tell anyone about you and your products what would it be?
  • What is your origin story? How did the company start and why? What special ideas did the founders have?

Avoid language that states “buy my products.” No one cares. What they care about is how your product or service will make their life better.

When you go through these exercises (and there are many more), you’ll discover language, phrases and stories you’d like to get across. From there, a guide can be developed.

Read the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

Four Leaf has taken about 40 organizations through its Positioning, Messaging and Storytelling process. Learn more here.

 

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

 

Part Seven of the Modern Communications Plan: What you WON’T Do

This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not do (but could) is vital to ensuring focus.

This could be your longest or your shortest section. The length doesn’t matter. What matters is what you’ll commit to avoiding. When you know your audience, this list shouldn’t be hard to compile. After all why would you waste time on channels, content and other activities that don’t matter to who you’re trying to reach?

If creating this list is difficult, ask yourself these questions:

  • How well do I really know my audience? Do we need to do more research?
  • Where are they and who influences them?
  • What channels and types of content influence them? What doesn’t?
  • Why do I (or someone on your team) want to engage in certain activities? Because it’s cool? Because everyone else is doing it? Because it’s the next best thing? How do you know?

Next up? Content strategy — another place people often start first, but shouldn’t.

Read the entire modern communications template here.

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Part Six of the Modern Communications Plan: What Will You Actually DO?

A well thought out communications plan has a set action plan. That’s not to say this section doesn’t allow for change. But having a baseline of activities tied to a communications strategy will give meaning to what your team does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

This tactics section should include all the things you’re going to actually do.

 

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If media relations is part of your strategy mix, 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?

But, beware. Whenever you feel your communications plan is “all over the place,” look to see if your team is stuck in just staying busy.

Instead of making decisions on the fly to hold a contest on Facebook, how will this activity move your branding, communications goals and strategy forward? Thinking about developing a PSA series? Why? Is your audience particularly visually focused and enjoys videos? (See the target audience section.) And, how will you ensure they actually see them? (See communications channel section.) Is your team working on providing stakeholders with tool kits to help spread the word? Again, why? Have your stakeholders requested this? And how will that further the reach of your messages to the right people?

The tactical section also 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.

Next up? The “we won’t” list..

Read the entire modern communications template here.

Strategies: Part Five of the Modern Communications Plan

The strategy section is usually where people start. Resist the urge! Start with the first four steps: Identifying your vision, goals and objectives and ‘greatest accomplishment,’ your target audience and main channels. If you don’t go through those steps first, you could waste a lot of time developing a beautiful strategy that misses the mark. After all, there is no sense in engaging in a high-level strategy like social media, if you’re trying to reach someone who doesn’t use it. (Yes, those people actually exist.) Or, if they use social media, it isn’t where they go to buy insert whatever you sell here.

Common strategies include:

  • conducting media relations
  • engaging in community relations
  • launching a new community (online or in person)
  • holding events
  • attending or producing trade shows
  • launching a new “theme” for your company or industry or re-branding
  • creating your own channels (i.e. launching a magazine)
  • engaging or launching social awareness, philanthropic and corporate social responsibility programs
  • engaging in customer recognition
  • creating an awards program

Hopefully, this short list got you thinking what is possible. Next up? Tactics.

The whole communications plan template can be found here.

 

How Well Do You Know Who You’re Talking To? Part 3 of the Modern Communications Plan

How well do you know your target audience? Really.

In the modern communication plan, you’ll want to include detailed information about who you are trying to reach. This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that showcases who you are communicating to.

However, the deeper you describe them, the greater your team members will be able to work with your strategies and messaging. They can get more creative, knowing that what they are doing will resonate with who they are trying to influence.

So, what is “deep?”

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  • Where do they hang out online as well as in real life? That one may be easy to answer. But do you know when they are there? Pinterest attracts mostly women ages 18 to 35 and who spend an average of 80 minutes (!) with a penchant to buy (!!). They log onto Pinterest in droves on Saturday mornings. Are you there then? Online shopping has reshaped consumer-buying habits. Yet studies continually show that most people still like to visit brick and mortar stores. When does your audience do that? Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was the largest in-person shopping day for decades. But in the last few years, Black Friday seems more like Black Anytime.

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  • What causes action? You know what you want them to do, but what causes them to click, share or buy? Better yet, what causes an “automatic buy?” Is it from peer pressure? And what does that peer pressure look like? A high number of “views” of a video spurs more sharing than a lower-viewed piece. Or is your product likely to be purchased or adopted because it has a long brand history? Older Americans tend to have strong brand loyalty. The younger generation hasn’t had time to establish brand preferences yet.

  • Speaking of age, what generation is your audience from? For the first time in history, the U.S. job force has four generations represented. The youngest, the Millennials, have completely different attitudes about work, friends and family, and community than Depression-era workers. They also want different things from life. Know these differences. Name them.

These are a few questions to ask. What else should we examine? Share in the comments section if you have more.