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.

6 Things To Do Now So January Is Smooth(er)

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Ah, the holiday season. It’s either a time of scrambling to complete projects before the end of the year or it’s completely dead. Not dead-dead. Just quiet and filled with emails and messages that deliver the (hoped-for?) message “let’s hold off until January.”

But is this something to wish for? Come January 2, your to-do list could be a mile longer than usual. Besides projects to complete and the renewed energy a new year brings, landing new business is often at the top of the list. Below are things to do in December to make your January less crazy.

  1. Have coffee or lunch with new vendors, partner organizations and other key stakeholders. The environment is generally more relaxed and you’re giving these new potential partners time to think about how they might help you before you need them. This ensures when you do need them, they can be better prepared.
  2. Clean your office. Everyone has something that is sitting around on their desk (or under it), in the corner or tucked in a closet that either should be filed, sent to someone else or be pitched. See how clean you can get your desk top. Then revel in the extra space you never knew you had.
  3. Empty your email inbox. Are you laughing? Of course, you are. Try it anyway. It may take an entire day, but file or delete anything that you can. At least get that inbox down to one screen. If you can’t, perhaps some delegating is in order? If you can, imagine the relief an empty email inbox can bring. (I do this once a month at minimum.) If you haven’t already done so, set up rules for certain emails so they file themselves in folders.
  4. Write down your goals for 2017 — both for your career and your work. With December’s more relaxed business environment, your brain now has a chance to stew and simmer on these ideas. Don’t do anything on them–unless you really, really want to. Just identify them. When January rolls around, you may find you’ve had a few subconscious brainstorms that will make tackling these goals easier.
  5. Celebrate your successes in 2016. Given the pace of life, letting your victories go by unnoticed is common. Think of all the things that went well in the last year. Pat yourself on the back and throw a little party, even if it is just internally. In fact, do this several times in December. You deserve it, and acknowledging what went well will provide a little extra bit of energy needed to tackle a new year.
  6. Take the time to thank someone who contributed to your success. ‘Tis the season of gratitude after all. Remember the simplest of compliments can pack a wallop. Send a handwritten note, email or text with a simple sentiment, such as “Before the year ends, I want you to know your work on XYZ made all the difference.”

These are simple activities and can help you ease into January. You don’t have to do them all. But definitely clean out your email inbox. Trust me on that one.

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.

Three Mistakes To Avoid in Storytelling

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Storytelling is not all fun and games. Avoid these mistakes we see far too often in business communications–and how to avoid them.

  1. Don’t confuse a message with a story. In its simplest terms, a message is a conclusion you wish people to reach. A story is the journey that gets you to that conclusion with a beginning, middle and end. A message is the end.
  2. Don’t make your story all about you. Make it about your customer. People like to read about other people–unless that person is a narcissist. Don’t be that person Don’t only talk about how great you are. Share how great you are through the eyes of someone you pleased.
  3. Don’t confuse your fancy terms with clarity and understanding. The term, XYZ Company Advantage, may sound like a terrific name for a loyalty program, but would your customer automatically equate that term with such a thing? Label things for what they are: XYZ Customer Loyalty Program. (Okay, it’s oversimplified, but you get what I’m saying, right?)

What’s This Storytelling Thing?

plato“Those who tell the stories rule society.” ~ Plato

Storytelling was considered the communications industry’s”hot thing” a few years ago. I say it never went out of style. Business communicators who use a narrative style in their communications, where they tell the story about their company, products and services, are just more interesting than those who spew a set of messages.

But what’s a story anyway? Isn’t just sharing what you’re doing a story? No.

Rather than spew a list of statistics and data about yourself and your offerings, engage people with a narrative that illustrates what you want them to know about you.

Who is involved with your organization? What are they doing that’s so interesting? Why does it matter? Where did you make a difference to them? What happened?  How did they start out one way but ended up differently once they engaged you? The answers to these questions are part of the larger story of why your organization matters.

The story of what you do provides context, paints the larger picture and evokes emotion, connection, understanding and action.

When you tell a great story, people connect what they are hearing to their own lives and experiences. They also retain what you’re telling them. Stories are stored in long-term memory whereas data is stored in short-term memory.

What to be memorable? Tell a story.

Three Hours and Three Exercises for Communications Success

Natural Stone LandscapingEvery company should go through three exercises annually to ensure their language is relevant, powerful and effective.

  1. Good word-bad word list
  2. Red dot/blue dot game
  3. The concept pyramid

Okay, laugh if you must. But these simple exercises will show where your team is disconnected and therefore saying different things about you which only breeds confusion among your customers. They also should show you where your communications efforts are working–or not.

GOOD WORD-BAD WORD

First, the good word-bad word list. This exercise can easily be done over a lunch or one hour meeting. On a white board, have your staff list all the words they want associated with your products and services. Avoid cliches and jargon. Excellent, solutions and innovation lost their power years ago. Try to list things that you can truthfully “own” and which incite excitement. Propel, champion, advocate and other less-used words are far more powerful than tired language that everyone uses. Speaking of which, what are some phrases that your competition does not use?

Once armed with a good word list, move on to “bad words.” These are words you never want uttered when someone describes who you are and what you do. Also, don’t just list the opposite of the “good words.” Rather, select words, terms and phrases that someone could use when describing you, but you’d rather they didn’t. If you’re a nonprofit, do people call you a charity when you’re really not? Could someone label you as a web hosting company when you do so much more?

RED DOT-BLUE DOT

Now move on to the red dot-blue dot game. This exercise also can be done in about an hour. Plaster your conference room walls with phrases you’ve lifted from marketing materials, your web site, sales pitches and other collateral. Give your staff six stickers — three red and three blue. Ask them to put a red dot next to the three messages they believe are the most important for your organization to convey. Ask them to put a blue dot next to three messages they believe are the least important. Notice a pattern? Were you surprised by any selection? This will tell you much about how your team views the company–and how they are likely talking about it. Discuss why people chose certain phrases. Also, discuss what people viewed as the lowest priority message.

CONCEPT PYRAMID

Now take your good words and your three winning messages and prioritize them in a pyramid. This exercise can be done in thirty minutes or three hours, depending on results of the first two exercises. See a story unfolding? If you don’t see a logical pattern emerging, you know you have some work to do around positioning, messaging and storytelling. Hopefully, you’ll see a clear path to the most powerful story you can tell about your organization. If not, call us. We’ll help sort out your communications.

More about our Messaging, Positioning and Storytelling work.

Positioning Your Organization. What the Heck Is That?

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Positioning basically means where your organization stands against all the other choices your customers have. When someone needs to hire a service or buy a product, they are exposed to any number of options. If you have a good position, you will be considered in the running and have a good chance of being chosen as the winning provider. If you have a poor position, you are overlooked.

What does this have to do with messaging?

Every organization should have a positioning statement to showcase who you are and who you are not. The positioning statement leads people to either put you on their short list of who they wish to deal with or exclude you.

Below is an example of a positioning statement we helped develop a number of years ago for a venture organization seeking to attract more people to their events (their main product).

CVG: By entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

Simple, direct and to the point. Why is this powerful? First of all, you know who you’ll meet at their events. Entrepreneurs. If you are one, you will meet like-minded people who will understand you.

It also tells you who they are not. They are not the Chamber of Commerce. They are not a technology council (popular back then). They are not a trade association.

When proactively positioning yourself, you’ll first want to identify:

  • the piece of the world you want to own (or at least where you can effectively compete)
  • how you stack up presently against all the other options people have
  • what you’re willing to do to get to where you want to be

It’s key to be honest here. You can’t reach your goals if you aren’t willing to take a hard look at where you stand and why you hold that position.

The next step is to identify how you are different, why someone should be interested in you, and, again, what is accurate about your products and services. You need to know this because a powerful positioning statement:

  1. Differentiates you (tells your audience who you are compared to everyone else)
  2. Is compelling to your audience (tells them something that is interesting to them)
  3. Is truthful (tells them what they will honestly get when doing business with you)

The positioning statement is just one message in your communications arsenal. But it’s powerful, and every organization should start here before developing an elevator pitch, soundbites, advertising copy…even your tag line (what many people want to start with).

After all, if you don’t know how you want to stand out in a crowd, all other messages and stories will be like shouting into the wind.

 

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.