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 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 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.

 

 

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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.

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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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?

Who Is Going To Implement Your Shiny New Communications Plan?

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?

 

Modern Communications Planning: The Target Audience Section

Continuing our series on modern communications planning, today we discuss the target audience. Or, to whom are you trying to communicate?

In my 27 years working in the communications field, I have found many organizations spent much time talking about how the proverbial “we” were going to get our ideas across to people “we” were hoping will spend time and money with us. In fact, most of the time was spent talking about what “we” want to say, and a smaller percentage of the time was spent talking about who was going to hear it. If this sounds familiar, it is time to reverse that trend.

Including a section that has basic information about your client or customer base, such as top-level demographic data, key market research findings, descriptions of their world, and other information helps keep your decision-making real world and relevant.

First, honestly answer how well you know your audience. You may believe you know them quite well. Sales force feedback, focus groups, surveys, and direct conversations give you good information. But, is it proving to be enough?

In  the book Transformational  Speaking, author Gail Larsen, offers the following four questions to ask yourself about an audience:

  1. Is your audience seeking information?  Is your audience moved by data? Do they just not know much about your topic and they want to know more?
  2. Is your audience seeking insight?  Are they just looking for what to do? Are they looking for someone to lead
    the way?
  3. Is your audience seeking to expand their imagination? Are they seeking to make something new happen?
  4. Is your audience seeking to be illuminated? Are they seeking to be changed at a deep level? Do they want to be moved?

These questions are mostly used before developing a presentation. But by knowing where your audience falls in the above four categories, you may now set the tone of all your communication efforts.

But, then, dig a little deeper before delving into the strategies and tactics portion of your communications planning. Answer the following questions about your prime target (your sweet spot customer):

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, leaving a legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Layer the demographic data and market research data on these answers to develop a one page profile of your target audience. Include:

  • Job title/where they fit into the organization
  • Where they get their information
  • Who influences them
  • What they need solved, advanced or changed, and why
  • What are they worried about
  • What messages would likely resonate with them (the tone, word choices, and stories)

You’ll find  that the communications strategies you choose will be (or should be) developed to fit the needs of this profile.