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 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.

Individuality

 

 

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.

 

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.

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?

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?

Punchy Infographics Made Easy

by guest blogger, Christine Hohlbaum

What is an Infographic? It is a story-telling image that conveys complex data at a glance. A good infographic tells a story using the visual medium. A bad one plunks down seemingly random data without an overarching narrative.

Essentially, there are four basic types of infographics:

1. The “state of” an industry/trend/idea: These infographics are great for celebrating a milestone or sounding a warning alarm. The best ones combine timelines with a vision of how fast the world is changing.

2. Viewer Resource: Great for building goodwill via “how to” resources, supplying a utilitarian bulletin-board “guide” to a topic, curating “sticky” experiences with interactivity or repurposing promotional items, these infographics can be posted on a wall and used as a guide.

3. Comparative Image: Comparative infographics can inject humor and levity into content with items that are clearly different, or can help extent a public debate, such as a Mac vs. PC infographic.

4. Evolution: Good for “food for thought” content, establishing authority, triggering deeper discussion or debate.

Before you can even put your fingers to the keyboard, you have to consider several steps first. Like a movie script, infographics require a certain level of brainstorming and sketching to plan out your storyboard before you get to the details.

Research. Decide what your subject is going to be and do some research. An infographic is not just a pretty picture: it says something. Avoid presenting stale, outdated information. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to know? What do I want it to say?” Hard data is essential. The more powerful statistics you have, the better. But don’t overload your infographic with random data as you might your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. The consequences are a jumbled image with too much information!

 Brainstorm. Once you have some hard data to work from, consider the layout and design. Infographics often work best when the graphics reflect the subject of the data, so let the data inform and drive the design. In this part of the design process, explore as many avenues as possible.

Develop Concepts. Once you have outlined your ideas into a storyboard format, identify several more coherent concepts. Get your business partner or friend to help bounce ideas around. Like a doctor’s visit, getting a second opinion can never hurt.

Pare it Down to One Idea. As you refine your idea, continue to draw the infographic. You can use index cards with each idea if you are a hands-on type of person to easily move the various parts back and forth. At this point, you should begin to see the finished product coming into form.

Finalize. Put on the finishing touches with any last-minute tweaking. With infographics this usually means adding highlights/textures to really make the graphics pop.

Best Practices 

  • Always include your sources, including your own Web site URL, somewhere on the image.
  • Use HTML for people to embed the image while linking back to your site (SEO-friendly solution).
  • Host the infographic on your Web site. Have people link to it. Some blog platforms (WordPress.com) allow you to post an image without having to upload it using the link itself.
  • Make it snappy. Snapshots are punchier than super-long images that require scrolling.
  • Add every image to your Pinterest.com account.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is a long-time consultant at Four Leaf Public Relations. When she’s not tweeting or posting an update, she’s thinking about her next blog contribution. Her motto? I blog, therefore I am. http://powerofslow.org

3 Parts of a Powerful Message

A few weeks ago I spoke to a leadership group for our regional Chamber of Commerce. The topic was crafting a powerful message and story and distributing it with impact. It was a good refresher for me just to prepare for the meeting.

Over the last 25 years as a communications professional, I’ve seen business leaders spend countless hours on ensuring their financial house is in order, their processes are efficient, and their employees are engaged and productive. Yet, when it comes to developing their organizational narrative, too many believe one afternoon – too often an hour during a board meeting – will produce an influential elevator pitch about who they are and what they are about.

The same holds true for a blog post about messaging. A few paragraphs describing the positioning and messaging a company should go through aren’t enough. But, at least below are a few ideas to get someone started.

Three basic elements of a powerful message:

  • It is compelling. Use a page turning, double-taking lead-in. Make your elevator pitch interesting to your target audience (not just to you).
  • If differentiates you. How are you unique, really? Excellent customer service is no longer a powerful differentiator. What do you bring to the table that only you may claim?
  • It is marked by truth and accuracy, which, by the way are not always the same. But, that’s another blog post. Ask yourself, what can you really deliver? What is believable? What can you say that tells the real story about you?