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

Golden apple 3d render (clipping path and isolated on white)

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

 

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.

 

Part Four of the Modern Communications Plan: How will you get the word out?

When planning how you’re going to share your story, products and services with the world, it’s imperative to choose the right channels to do so. What channels will have the greatest probability of reaching your specific audience?

Do not be seduced by a shiny new social media platform or distribution service without understanding who it will reach.This is where the “we won’t” list comes in handy. (More on that section later.) It’s tempting to do or at least try everything—and keeping tabs on “the next big thing” is important—but you want to focus on what is working right now with your audience.

For instance, a major Facebook strategy may not be necessary if your audience is Generation Z (think current tweens and high school students). But you better familiarize yourself with Snapchat and Instagram to reach this audience. Or perhaps, you’re trying to reach Generation Y or Millennials. This also may mean you’d have to revamp your content strategy—get away from white papers, trade shows (unless you’re going to Comic Con) and print advertising and move to digital mediums like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Baby boomers? Try Pinterest, community media outlets, and targeted advertising.

Conduct a “deep dive” into where your target audience goes online, what they watch or monitor, and where they get their information. Then devise a strategy to use those channels.

Next up? Developing strategies and tactics.

Read the entire modern communications template here.

 

 

channels

 

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?”

Rail road moving throw the hole in the big green apple 3d illustration

  • 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.

iStock_red apple with heart.XSmall

  • 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.

Greatest Accomplishment, Goals and Objectives: The Second Steps in the Modern Communications Plan

Once you have determined your vision for your effort, identifying a “greatest accomplishment” and goals and objectives should be next.

The “greatest accomplishment” section is short. It could be one line or even one word. What is the single most important communication achievement that your organization or project can achieve?

An example would be for a business or industry is to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or introduce a new idea. But name the change or idea. Don’t let it remain nebulous.

If you are successful, what will have occurred very specifically? Make it achievable, but also hard. Contrary to popular belief, “hard” can be quite motivating for a team if they are given sufficient resources and structure. Identify a “holy grail” moment for your team and you will have incentivized the game.

Next, identify at least three goals and objectives.

We define goals as things you reach. They are milestones such as audience numbers, a specific partnership formalized or specific media attention. Again, how will you know you are successful? Where are you now and where do you want to be? How will you know you’ve “arrived?”

Objectives are things you create, such as introducing a new conversation that takes hold in the public discourse or a certain status for your organization. What will be different if you are successful? How will your organization, your industry, a certain audience or your team be changed?

One note: We realize some people have differing definitions of goals and objectives. But these work for us and our programs. As long as your team is on the same page, you’re golden.

Part Two of the Modern Communications

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our client’s overall communications and special projects. Throughout the summer, I’ll blog about each part, including providing questions that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

1. Vision
This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete? An example would be for a nonprofit organization to be the “go to” source on all things related to their cause.

2. Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (happenings from new conversations and ways of thinking to a certain status).

2a. Our Greatest Accomplishment
This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve. An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to introduce a new idea.

3. Target Audience
This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that showcases who you are communicating to.

4. Main Communications Channels
This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push our your information, thought leadership and ideas.

5. Strategies
This section discusses the main strategies employed and why. Employing social media, engaging in media relations, community relations, holding events, launching a new “theme” for your industry — these are some tried-and-true strategies you’ll find in a plan.

6. Main Tactics
This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward. Hold contests on Facebook? Develop a PSA series? Provide stakeholders with toolkits to help spread the word? this section houses the details.

7. “We Won’t” List
This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to ensuring focus.

8. Content Strategy
The section addresses 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.

9. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling
This section should include your message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition to spotlight pitch on the organization or project. It sets the message tone so everyone is clear on what you are going to say and how.

10. Monitoring & Measurement
This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored areas, will go into how to tell how you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.

11. Team Players.
This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

12. Timeline.
How are you going to ensure your company will use it? There is no sense in having a communications plan if you aren’t going to use it, so plan out your activities. Set dates.

Lucky number 13: How much money are you willing to spend? The reason there is no formal section above is because, in my 30 years of experience, 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 above template unfolds. The plan will usually tell you how much you need to spend to be effective. Decisions can be made from there.

Ami Neiberger-Miller Joins Four Leaf Public Relations as Senior Counselor

Ami Neiberger-MillerWe are a fortunate group at Four Leaf Public Relations. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing a new virtual team member: senior counselor Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR. A seasoned public relations consultant, Ami brings a strong background and more than twenty years of experience in helping businesses and associations take the next step in sharing who they are and what they want to do.

Ami’s areas of expertise include: designing and managing strategic communications and outreach campaigns; providing strategic counsel for tough situations and messaging development; developing and integrating content creation with media relations and writing for web copy, news releases, event scripting, educational curriculum, professional training, and more.

Ami has written for PRSA’s Tactics and other publications on news coverage and crisis. She has spoken at Columbia University and the Carter Center on media coverage and trauma. She has been interviewed by CNN, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News, and NPR. She’s been around!

Ami is also a public relations strategist, writer and consultant at Steppingstone LLC and a public affairs and media relations officer at Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).  In the past Ami has been a special projects consultant and writer at National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC); a member of  the board of directors and chair of the public relations working group at Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter/Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice (LAWS/LCSJ) and the communications director at Sister Cities International.

Welcome, Ami!

 

 

 

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?