Tag Archives: communications strategy

Blogging Strategy

21 Jul

I keep telling myself that I really have to write a blog post.

It’s been awhile now, and while there haven’t been a horde of communications and marketing professionals beating down my digital doorway for my latest words of wisdom, it is generally a good idea not to let the blog just hang there for months on end.

And yet…

And yet, it strikes me that, “I really have to write a blog post,” is exactly the wrong thing to say.  First, it’s de-motivating.  But more importantly, “I really have to write a blog post,” is bad strategic communications. (do  I also really need to make a phone call? send an email? shake a hand?)

What I should be thinking is, “Who should I talk with today?” and “What do I want to discuss with them?, or even, “What do I need to make happen today?” And then, and only then, should run through the myriad ways that I might discuss those topics with individuals, groups and that horde of communications and marketing professionals who really ought be to be knocking down my digital doorway, demanding the latest words or wisdom.

Well…sort of.

My business development strategy mostly involves great deal of getting out there and meeting people — widening my own circle of connections.  And it’s working. From this standpoint, the blog is secondarily a lead generation tool; mostly, it is sales support — ensuring that when people meet me and hear about me and, inevitably, check me out online, they find not just my LinkedIn profile and what I’ve been impulsively posting on Twitter but also a little bit on how I think about communications strategy, public relations, marketing and the media, paper, web, social and otherwise.

Which means, as it turns out, that I really need to write a blog post. ;-)

Shift Your Communications Focus

3 Dec

I was chatting this morning with the head of a private school about its struggles with when and how to use social media, both in how it communicates with families and how it markets itself to new potential families.

The stakes are high.  Families sending their kids to a private school have a powerful sense of ownership over what happens, and a huge expectations for the school’s success at delivering education to their kids.  But if I recall my own education, not every interaction with the education “product” is perfect and smooth — these are kids growing up after all, and parents are always learning to be parents (and some of us never learn, really).  More, from what I’ve seen, there’s always have a segment of their stakeholders demanding that the school push into new media, and an even bigger segment that squawks at every change.

The head of the school noted that most ‘school blogs’ he’s seen are statements from the head of the school, which just doesn’t seem right.  Video seems like a huge opportunity, but what level of quality will be required–and how much will that cost? And he’s seen school Facebook pages that turn into quasi-public forums for parents to air grievances.  The pall hanging over it all:  we already have too much to do and no budget  to put into it — how do we add social media?

His concerns are shared by businesses: They always seem to come down to the question of “How do I add social media when I don’t have the staff and I don’t have the budget.”

My answer is to shift perspective: You’re not adding — you’re changing focus.  The communications environment requires a new way of looking at how you reach and influence the people you want to reach, and every tool you use or consider has to be evaluated against this backdrop.  

Herewith, my view of the communications backdrop, and its implications for organizations seeking to recast how they engage with their stakeholders.

1.  People want what they want, when they want it. You’re website must serve the core information needs of a wide range of constituents, 24-hours a day.  Most organizations have handled this one. But it also means that people want your online presence to feel dynamic and meaningful — always up-to-date, up-to-the-minute.

Implications: Make sure your site is meeting core stakeholder interests. Add features that increase your site’s relevance and immediacy, including homepage news updates and a blog.

2. People want you to reach them any way they want. They want print, they want email, they want RSS, they want mobile alerts, they want Twitter, they want Facebook. They want alerts one way, and perspectives another way.  They want pictures and videos. Moreover, they want you to do it smart — and “smart” means different things to different people.

Implications: Understand and segment your stakeholders.  What are you goals for them? How do you communicate with them today? Is it working? How are they interacting with you and your communications?  Are you meeting their expectations? Exceeding them?  From a media standpoint, emphasize flexibility — can your newsletter be formatted for ease of use via email, web and print? Can you automate alerts? Would print on demand meet needs and save cost?

3. People like to share. It happens by phone, email, social networks and even (gasp!) in person.  Electronic communication speeds messages and encourages sharing. Sometimes it’s conversation; sometimes it’s just spreading news.

Implications:  Make your messages easy to share.  Consider posting to networks like YouTube and Flickr.  Implement blogs that include sharing and RSS feeds. Most of all — encourage people to share with “share this” links and remind them that the more people who know about this, the better.

4. People want to be a part of something. Ease of access by email, web and social network has broken down organizational barriers, creating a population that wants a more intimate,  knowing relationship with organizations and brands.  Before, you’d gain that by meeting people in person; now there’s a population wants to get that feeling online, too.

Implications: Create opportunities for people to be part of a conversation.  Open doors through blogs, video, audio and pictures that give people an ‘inside view’ of what you do as an organization.  Give up a little control to gain an active role in guiding conversations that bring people closer to your organization. Most of all, use tools like blogs and social networks to give other people a chance to make your story their story… to create, in their own words, in their own way.

And if you’re still trying to figure all of this out for your organization, get help!

6 Ways to Drive Communications

12 May
If I were running your communications program, I would: 
1. Sync up the message. If everyone in your company is out there with their own message, they might as well be working for themselves.  When the core message is synched up across all communications and everyone knows it, those individuals become a team, and magnify the power of each interaction. 
2. Act like media. The company has people and communities to meet, reach and influence, every day. How will we do that? Where? When? In many cases, the website can be a central hub for communications that engage the market through site features, blogs, newsletters, video/audio, and RSS.  
3. Listen…and share.  When I was a young intern at a Fortune 500 company, the PR department did a daily news roundup on paper that went across the executive ranks. There are more media and conversations to watch, but tracking it is easier than ever — but the task is being left to individuals.  Mix up news alerts, RSS feeds, email and website, and you’re there — or pay a modest fee for a media/social media tracking service.
4. Listen…and share part 2 — web analytics. While SEO is front and center in the mind of marketing, web analytics seems to be far less so — at least in the B2B world where I spend most of my time.  I’d want to know what’s being seen on the website, who’s using it, and how marketing and communications tactics impact web traffic and, where possible, leads. And I’d share the data. 
5. Audit and adapt. What’s working? What’s not? What does everyone say “we really should be doing” but we’re not? If strategies and tactics are working, we keep them strong. If they aren’t, they should be phased out, and replaced with what we really should be doing.  
6. Measure, but don’t be ruled by measurement. Anecdotes can be effective. The press release that generated a lead that led to a big sale may never have generated single clip or pushed more than a dozen people to the website, but it worked. The article linked on an obscure blog that caught the eye of the guy the VP sat next to on the airplane and turned into marketing partnership was a blip on the radar…but it worked. Listen to the people on the front lines — in sales, business development, and service.  Collect statistics and anecdotes. 

As a communications consultant, I often talk to clients about strategy, but don’t often have the chance to help them “start fresh”.  So I thought I’d share this — six principles that I would advocate when running the communications function. 

1. Sync up the message. If everyone in your company is out there with their own message, they might as well be working for themselves.  When the core message is synced up across all communications and everyone knows it, those individuals become a team, and magnify the power of each interaction. 

2. Act like media. The company has people and communities to meet, reach and influence, every day. How will we do that? Where? When? In many cases, the website can be a central hub for communications that engage the market through site features, blogs, newsletters, video/audio, and RSS.  

3. Listen…and share.  When I was a young intern at a Fortune 500 company, the PR department did a daily news roundup on paper that went across the executive ranks. There are more media and conversations to watch, but tracking it is easier than ever — but the task is being left to individuals.  Mix up news alerts, RSS feeds, email and website, and you’re there — or pay a modest fee for a media/social media tracking service.

4. Listen…and share part 2 — web analytics. While SEO is front and center in the mind of marketing, web analytics seems to be far less so — at least in the B2B world where I spend most of my time.  I’d want to know what’s being seen on the website, who’s using it, and how marketing and communications tactics impact web traffic and, where possible, leads. And I’d share the data. 

5. Audit and adapt. What’s working? What’s not? What does everyone say “we really should be doing” but we’re not? If strategies and tactics are working, we keep them strong. If they aren’t, they should be phased out, and replaced with what we really should be doing.  

6. Measure, but don’t be ruled by measurement. Anecdotes can be effective. The press release that generated a lead that led to a big sale may never have generated single clip or pushed more than a dozen people to the website, but it worked. The article linked on an obscure blog that caught the eye of the guy the VP sat next to on the airplane and turned into marketing partnership was a blip on the radar…but it worked. Listen to the people on the front lines — in sales, business development, and service.  Collect statistics and anecdotes. 

Not every thing you do leads directly to sales, but it all should drive the business forward.

‘Good a time as any’ for startups

24 Oct

James Fallows is offering ongoing takes on how venture capital firms are reacting to the financial crisis — a writer always worth following.  He’s previously posted a much-talked-about slide show by Sequoia Capital, essentially advising a batten down the hatches approach to running a startup.  This generated a response from by one of his readers, Alan Patricof, the managing director of the New York VC firm Greycroft Partners, quoted in full at Fallows’ blog, and excerpted below:

This is surely a time for companies to pay meticulous attention to detail, particularly their cost structure. It is a time to be realistic in their near term assumptions for revenue growth and take nothing for granted.

Raising additional capital to support operations is of course critical, as it is at any time, but this is particularly a time for young companies to be extra cautious in developing pragmatic assumptions of their needs and in focusing on the amount and not necessarily the cost of that capital.

This is not a time to panic, cut off all investment in the future, and burrow into a dark hole. Take a page from the packaged goods industry that the time to gain market share is during tough times when your competitors are weaker in responding. And while this may feel more directly related to portfolio companies, we as a venture industry should not retreat either. It is our strong belief that we can and will continue to make sound investments in excellent opportunities. It is as good a time as ever to start a company with sound fundamentals.

An approach that makes sense. As a communications and marketing consultant, I’ve long enjoyed working with enthusiastic, optimistic entrepreneurs with loads of big-picture ideas who nonetheless took a measured approach.  They invest in defining and positioning their brand, have clear objectives, and focus their communications on advancing strategies toward those objectives.

More, I think there’s something to this idea of money moving from exotic financial instruments toward ideas that make things — good ol’ fashioned ‘progress’.

How to Consume Political Commentary – 5 rules

3 Oct

I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, but political commentary is about the only thing that consistently gets me throwing things at the television and shouting at my laptop. After absorbing all the spin I could stomach, I thought I’d try to contribute something positive to the discussion.  Herewith, five guidelines for analyzing political commentary.

  • Ignore focus groups. Repeat after me:  “You cannot draw broad conclusions based on focus groups.” Even focus groups equipped with cute little dials that draw pretty lines that go up and down as people talk.  Every marketer knows this.  Talk to an experienced marketer about focus groups, and they roll their eyes.  They know how easy it is for a focus group to steer you wrong.
  • Ignore all political operatives. To pick on CNN specifically, I don’t understand what Paul Begala, Donna Brazile, Ed Rollins and that Republican ad-guy are doing on a panel.  They will give you their party’s line no matter what. They are ideologically committed to their parties’ ideals, and they are tribally committed to supporting their team.  When they talk, don’t listen.
  • On surveys, question the questions. It was great to get results of CNN’s instant opinion polls. But as with any survey research, the questions asked, their context and the audience is vitally important to broader understanding.  For example, 84% said Palin did better than expected … a result that tells much about the low level of expectations, and little about the quality of the performance.   51% say Biden wins … but how many say that winning a debate is important to them.  Similarly, Palin was seen by 54% as more “likable” than Biden (36% felt the opposite), which compares the two, but tells us nothing about whether or not they find Biden or Palin likable at all.    On the other hand, the result that 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified to be president, while 42 percent said Palin is qualified seems telling.
  • If someone’s doing real analysis, pay attention. I like sites like RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, that aggregate polls (though they’re in a bit of a tiff with each other over perceived bias in their poll choices). I’m a big fan of James Fallows of The Atlantic, who has for many years been watching and analyzing debate performances with almost scientific rigor; he delivers great insights in the magazine and on his blog.
  • On blogs, click the links. Just because you tend to agree with your favorite blogger, it’s important to “trust but verify.” Know who they’re quoting.  Does that person have any authority, or is the blogger just amplifying someone else’s uninformed opinion?  I’ve been following Andrew Sullivan’s blog lately.  It’s taken awhile to get a feel for his unique take … what he gets worked up about, where I think he goes too far … mostly by following up on his sources, which he helpfully provides.

It’s the only way to come to your own conclusions.

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