Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

All good things must come to an end. And Great Things must begin!

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
Sean's career in summary

What a long, strange, wonderful PR trip it has been!

For eight wonderful years, I rode the wave of the entrepreneur. Communication AMMO is my second-longest tenure of employment in my near 30-year career in Public Relations and communications. Beginning next week, CommAMMO becomes part of True Digital Communications, a Greater Cleveland-based communication agency, that focuses on the digital world, including advertising, marketing, PR and content.

In my new role, I will lead the education practice that Communication AMMO and True Digital have partnered on for several years, and will also establish a new internal communications practice, which will include the Face2Face Communication Learning Program that CommAMMO acquired two years ago.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to cross-train people on conducting both the Face2Face and AMMO programs. As part of the firm’s leadership team, I’ll also have an operational role for True. As an educator, helping others learn is a critical part of who I am.

This is a terrific opportunity — only such a great one could get me to move on from CommAMMO — and I’m looking forward to working even more closely with True’s principal, Chris Baldwin, and being part of the True team!

This post also appears on LinkedIn. 

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Leadership relies on communication

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

That's crazy talk! Our friend Google defines leading as a physical act, as in leading an animal, or as a demonstration — showing someone the way. Business management started with the former — Theory X, where employees are like children who require strict discipline — and began taking the latter approach — being more human and treating employees like adults and “leading by example” in more recent years.

Management, on the other hand, has a different set of definitions: The process of dealing with or controlling things or people; the responsibility and control of an organization.

Note that control is implied in leadership, but explicit in management. The question of control in an interconnected age has become rather fraught of late. We’ve long observed that employees are smart, that control is illusory, that we must enlist people rather than merely command them.

In organizations where leaders respect employees and seek to recruit them to the business purpose, mission, values and vision, there’s sustainable success. In others where those precepts do not hold, success may come, but not be sustained.

In successful organizations, employees buy in. They understand their role in organizational results, they feel a connection to the organization and they act accordingly. Internal communication strategy should support the effort to create appropriate context, foster identification with the organization, and demonstrate the behaviors necessary for the organization to thrive.

In organizations where there is an uneven distribution of communication skill, where communication capabilities vary according to the individual leader, process is essential. Leaders must have access to a toolkit that helps them be effective. Ideally, the toolkit should recommend what to communicate, how to communicate, and provide some sort of mechanism to create discussion.

A few recommendations:

  • Conduct a leadership communication audit. Discover to what extent leaders are doing communication well. Holding staff meetings, asking questions, engaging employees in planning and tactics are three areas that tend to work to improve communication in teams. This audit should be a combination of self-reporting, peer-reporting and employee feedback – a true 360 degree view.
  • Establish processes for leadership communication that start with audience analysis rather than “messaging.” Leaders should ask, “who is my audience? What do they know now? What are their current behaviors? What do I need them to think, feel or do differently?”
  • Help leaders think through the communication implications of their business strategies and objectives. This thinking is the cornerstone of an effective communication process. During this discussion, ask questions regarding the changes, objectives, reasons and effects. That’s what forms the content of the communication action.

More communicators could embrace the portion of their job that’s about communication itself — no one else can accurately call themselves experts in that discipline within your organization. If not us, whom?

Tell me what you think!

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How do you do communication planning?

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Planning is SO crucial to effective PR that I can’t even when I encounter communicators who don’t or can’t do it. Fortunately, there are fewer of those all the time, and I really respect those who ask for help. Here’s a short primer on doing effective strategy.

My two cents is that you have to start with objectives. Objectives are everything. When they are SMART, they set the stage for cogent strategies and effective tactics, and for measurement. If your objectives are too broad and high level, it’s much harder to make them work.

Even the term, “objectives” is a bit fraught, because of the war between “goal” and “objective.” Some models use goal as the more specific and objective as the more general. The OGSM model does this. It’s an excellent model that specifically connects different departmental plans to one another.

For our purposes, we will use goal as general, and objective as specific.

I have two templates to share with you. One now, and one later. First is the AMMO model. Audiences, Messages, Methods, Objectives.  You put a 2X2 box together with Audiences and Objectives on the top row and Messages and Methods on the bottom.

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For this purpose, Audience is equal to stakeholder. We typically prefer the latter term, as audience implies passivity, but stick with me. For each audience, you articulate what you want them to think, feel and/or do.  Then you push that information through the SMART filter — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This is probably the hardest part of the planning effort. Keep driving to get each SMART element into your objectives.

Next, you determine messages — what information do you need to transmit to realize your objectives? What do you have to hear back from the audience? The message platform isn’t ad copy — it’s the thoughts and ideas that guide development of content.

Finally, methods – which communication tactics will effectively transmit your messages and bring your objectives to reality?

The construction of effective objectives relies on your ability to continue refining and narrowing your focus.

For example:

You may hear “We want media coverage.” That’s not an objective, even if we quantify the type and amount of coverage. It’s a strategy designed to reach your end audiences. So, we ask, “Why?”  Answer: We want to elevate awareness among our target audiences. Still not a SMART objective. What is the current state of awareness? By how much shall we increase it, and over what time period?  Good objectives have a benchmark, a target, and a timeframe.

But we still are expressing this in “output” terms — what about the effect of increased awareness? What we really are asking for is increased sales, improved attitudes and beliefs about us, actions to recommend us, etc. Our objectives have to include outputs (what we do and that immediate result), outtakes (also known as communication outcomes, like web traffic), and outcomes (business results).

Our objectives must include all three levels – and the relationship among those levels must be valid.

Strategy is a road map — objectives are the destination. The messages are the fuel and the methods the vehicle.

Below, two resources I highly recommend — a paper from Anderson, et. al. on objective setting, and one from Rawlins on stakeholder priorities. Both are Gold Standard papers from the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, of which I also am a member.

Anderson, F., Hadley, L., et.al. (2009) Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives: An Update.  http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/setting-measurable-objectives/ 

Rawlins, B. (2006) Prioritizing Stakeholders for Public Relations.  http://www.instituteforpr.org/prioritizing-stakeholders/ 

There is TONS of great stuff at www.InstituteforPR.org — it’s free, there’s no membership or registration, and it reflects the cutting edge of measurement research for the practice. Please consider supporting the IPR — it relies on donations to keep going. 

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12 statements to ‘tick’ you off

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Grrrr. I’ve actually heard people say these things.

  • Communication isn’t important to leadership, or to management.
  • Leaders who communicate well do so because they’re born that way.
  • You cannot teach communication to people, because it’s an art, not a science.
  • Communication is all about getting your message across.
  • All that needs to happen is that a communication is sent. It’s up to the receiver to take responsibility for what happens next.
  • Listening is overrated. All employees want to do is complain.
  • Employees aren’t interested in the business.
  • Change is constant, so there is no point to talk about it.
  • Facts and figures are more important than trying to get people engaged.
  • Employees don’t understand business, so why bother telling them about it?
  • Internal communication is just a warm, fuzzy for the employees.
  • Employee communicators just don’t know the business, so they can’t help me with my issues.

Thoughts?

 

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3 new research items that move PR forward

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

ResearchBlockThe research at the International PR Research Conference in March includes several items from Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig, who, as has become usual, is at the vanguard of public relations research. These three papers are leading our practice – and deserve much more notice among those of us who do the work. They join several others that I covered previously.

I’ve written before about the need for practitioners to embrace the academic professionals who are researching our field. Zerfaß brought with him Ph.D. student Sophia Charlotte Volk, who shared two papers co-authored with him (and won a heap of research awards at the conference, including this one) that I’ll briefly describe in successive posts. Talking with Ansgar and Sophia was terrific, and I learned a lot from them.

The Communication Value Circle — Introducing a multi-disciplinary framework for aligning communication with corporate strategy. (Zerfaß & Dr. Christine Viertmann) This research project explores the theories and concepts that explain communication value in the context of business, and identifies and arranges in a system communication goals, and links them to corporate goals. This latter portion of the project establishes that communication contributes to overall business objectives in four ways:

  • Enabling operations through publicity, customer preferences and employee commitment;
  • Building intangibles through reputation, brand and corporate culture;
  • Ensuring flexibility of a corporation through establishing and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, and building trust and legitimacy, and
  • Adjusting strategy through thought leadership, innovation potential and crisis resilience.

Implications:

This work begins to codify, clearly, not only how to describe the impact and value of organizational communication, but to build measurement strategies to demonstrate it.

  • “Enabling operations” speaks to organizational effectiveness, productivity, and sales leadership and the measurement of each.
  • “Building intangibles” can give input to balanced scorecard figures on nonfinancial indicators.
  • The point on building and maintaining relationships suggests measuring the strengths of those relationships.
  • The most important, to me, is “adjusting strategy.” Measurement isn’t only about proving value, it’s about actionable intelligence that allows organizations to course-correct.

Stay tuned for other posts on the IPRRC 2016 research.

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Latest PR Research sheds light

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Research is ImportantThe International PR Research Conference is a boon to public relations people like me, because it enables us to dig deeply into the state of the profession as researched by the academy, often in partnership with the practice. I wrote an appreciation of the conference over on LinkedIn, and this new post on my blog is the first of several going into some detail on what I found most useful.

Dr. Denise Bortree of Penn State examined 194 video sustainability reports from a variety of organizations, seeking trends. Her findings? Building legitimacy is the main goal — it’s less about the actual documentation of activity and more about the result of that documentation. Classic outcome measurement, as these organizations obviously see benefit in being perceived as sensitive to their non-financial obligations.  The UK and Europe are using video more frequently than do other regions of the world. These types of reports are seeing a recent rise in popularity.

Radford University’s Dr. Lynn Zoch and Dr. John Brummette looked into the connection between personal and organizational values, examining 10 annual reports from Fortune 500 companies and a series of depth interviews with PR professionals and organizational leaders to evaluate the link. This is the first step in a wider study, but the initial findings are that values do matter quite a lot on both sides of the equation. This supports the concept that several organizations have expanded lately — EY for one, focusing on purpose and hiring only people whose personal purpose aligns with the firm’s.

Several researchers from Purdue University, led by Dr. Alessandra Mazzei of Universita IULM, Italy, evaluate the role that organizational authenticity and employee empowerment have on the practice of employee endorsement of their organizations.  This “megaphoning” depends a lot on the quality of relationship between organization and employee (no surprise there). Particularly during a crisis, having employees who trust their organization and who feel motivated as a result to take action in support of their organization leads to positive behavior.  Marketers trying to make people into “brand ambassadors” through some sort of training or indoctrination should take heed — build great relationships internally and people will be ambassadors without any such program.

More to follow – This post is already kind of long, so part two coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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HBR covers employee complaints about managers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

It’s almost a cliche, so much so that some don’t even believe it.  Employees have certain expectations about their managers, and too many managers totally #fail at meeting them.  In the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon hits the high (or low) points.  Read the article, then see http://bit.ly/CommAMMOF2F.

 

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You are the expert in communication

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Does that headline make you nervous? A lot of corporate communicators (public relations, internal comms, etc.) don’t embrace the full extent of their capabilities. Your organization has internal experts in finance, law, accounting, operations, supply chain, marketing, public relations, etc., but you might not be seen in the way that could be most valuable for your organization.

What sort of impact would improving communication among managers and employees yield? If you seize the mantle of “expert in communication,” you can move into new territory beyond being the tactician, and have great impact on the functioning of your organization.

There is no one better qualified than you to take this on. Your friends in HR may “own” training, but you’re the best judge of the state of communication among managers and employees. You can be the sponsor for improving it.

When I ran the Face2Face Communication Learning Program for Joe Williams Communications, the people who typically brought us in to train their managers were communicators. Companies like John Deere, Lucent, Merck and Prudential had communicators who saw the effort to build communication capability in their companies as crucial, and they made it happen.

Now that I’ve bought the F2F program from Joe, I’m once again beating the drum for a more strategic view of communication that includes this type of training. Sure, I’m a capitalist – but this happens to be intrinsic to my purpose in professional life: To help people and organizations communicate more effectively.

This purpose gets me going every day. It’s a passion — because I see the impact in real terms. Companies that communicate, perform. People who communicate well foster and maintain better relationships with everyone.

I can help people, teaching them these tools, sharing my own experiences and setting an example to others.  Communication can change peoples’ lives for the better, and it starts with someone declaring that more effective communication is something the organization deserves, wants and needs.

Can we start with you?

 

 

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5 questions to ask your employees now

Friday, April 17th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-185452608We’re struggling in internal communication. The move to “social” within the enterprise is shifting our focus to tactics when we are still grappling with strategy.

What is internal communication for?  Are we advocates for employees? Advocates for management? Internal propaganda officers? Magazine editors?

We exist to help create organizational competitive advantage. Our executional elements for that will include tactics and tools, certainly, but in the end, our messaging and measures must reflect our existential mission.  Research from a few years ago (O’Neil, J. (2008)) shows that the answers to five questions can reveal *53% of the variance in employee comprehension of strategy, vision, values, etc. Here they are:

I am kept informed about the reasons behind company decisions. Nothing is more important to comprehension than reasons, and yet, organizations still persist in the belief that they’re not relevant or important enough to share. I think there’s a fear factor here — “What if they disagree with the reasons?” So what! Tell people plainly why you’re doing what you’re doing. They may not like it, but will respect you for sharing.

My business unit/function does a good job of communicating information to all employees. Perception of value is crucial. When employees believe the organization is good at internal communication, they tend to better understand the business.

The information I receive from my business/function is complete. Another faux pas is restricting information from internal communication. Employees are smart. They know when the sin of omission is committed, and in the absence of information, they will make up their own.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within my business/function. When the answers to this question are poor, you’re almost guaranteed to have a workforce that doesn’t comprehend what you need it to. It’s shocking how many times leaders will assume that people don’t need to know about a major change, often claiming that because it’s outside of their area of direct responsibility, it’s not relevant.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within the company. How can you operate your organization without keeping people abreast of the most significant changes? There are too many organizations which simply don’t think employees care. Good heavens, of course they care! Don’t you care about your organization? There are counter-examples, but the exchange relationship commonly associated with customer relationships usually doesn’t apply when you work for the company. It’s a less transactional, deeper and more substantive relationship with employees that leads to high performance.

Why not ask these questions every three months for a year?  Quick, easy surveys, postcards after town halls, postscripts to intranet stories.  Ask them and use the results to guide your editorial and manager communication activities. You might find the results more than compensate for your time.
*R2 = .526; F = 625; p = .000

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Major imbroglio from Forbes piece on PR and ROI

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

186140619I’m not including a link, because generally speaking, this is a case of not wanting to feed the trolls.  Over at Forbes, some guy wrote a post saying that nobody should pay for PR if they aren’t in a major organization. This brought the PR defense out onto the field, including Stephanie C from PRSA. Next thing you know, it’s a party.

OK, maybe not a party. Instead, it was a comment Battle Royale, with wounded PRs insisting that PR had value, and the writer asking for ROI figures as proof. Not awareness, not reputation, real money. Katie Paine ran in and offered her 30 examples of PR driving sales, and many others (including a great post from Gerry Corbett) supporting the bloodied public relations profession.  The writer, meanwhile, agreed that PR had value, but not for smaller enterprises who really need to convert prospects to dollars.

I thought about commenting myself, but in the end, it’s just a post with a link-bait headline and a pretty half-assed set of complaints about high retainers and lack of sales as a result. Yawn.  What’s interesting to me is the reaction from the industry. I mean, look, I say all the time that ROI is just one useful measurement of public relations — there are all kinds of things that organizations need we PRs to do other then sell. We certainly can, and do, do that, and often at much lower cost than our pals in marketing.

All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.

As I’ve said about 20,000 times, attempting to reduce all value to the monetary leads to all kinds of mischief.  If it’s just about revenue, get rid of your overhead departments entirely. Let managers take care of HR matters, use outsourced legal, stop internal communications, forget branding, make business units manage their own financials, and don’t bother with community relations or government relations… Yeah, right.

The biggest error in that guy’s thinking is that PR can be done by amateurs. Hey, if it’s only about getting your local media to cover you, just reach out to them, it’s easy, he says. Send a letter or email, do a list of media influencers on Twitter and tweet to them. Of course, unless what you have is newsworthy, you’re going to fail. Part of what we PR people do is counsel our internal or external clients on what constitutes news. We do all kinds of stuff that has value, but no direct contribution to sales. It’s not required. We help make a field more fertile for sales, we don’t plant the seeds, pull weeds (well, maybe we do that…) or spread fertilizer (except in political PR. Just kidding. )

In the end, if we add value, organizations invest in us. If we don’t we’re out. Some of that will be ROI. Some of it will be common sense.  We want to help our organizations win in the marketplace. How we do that is STRATEGY. And no matter how smart a business owner may be, chances are a professional public relations person can do a better job of creating comms strategy than he or she can.

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