Posts Tagged ‘communication methods’

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 facts that independent schools should take to heart about marketing

Monday, October 27th, 2014

462996881Independent schools (boarding and private schools) are bastions of wealth and privilege, packed to the ancient rafters with the sons and daughters of titans of industry, government and commerce, with long waiting lists of the 1 percent clamoring for entry. And the admission directors’ main job is to say, “no.”  Well, not exactly. This is 2014, and even alumni (many of whom have moved away from the old school) no longer “always” send their kids back. It’s a new world, and independent schools need to wake up about marketing.

What’s happened now is a massive demographic shift, from north and east to south and west, mirroring the wider trends in societies. For example, the state of Ohio, home to four boarding schools and countless private day schools, lost 150,000 households with children under 18 between 2001 and 2010. Who were those people? Young families from the state’s main metro areas, Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Youngstown and Cincinnati.

In Massachusetts, nearly 31 percent of households had children under 18 in 2000. That figure dropped to 28 percent in 2010, and just 8.6 percent had children under 14… Connecticut:  20 percent of households had children under 14 in 2000. 17.7 percent in 2010. On the surface, these are changes of just a few percentage points, but given the continued trends, and the lower birth rates associated with modern American life, they’re sobering. SSATB’s recent survey noted a 33% decline in domestic boarding students since 2001, and a precipitous decline in inquiries.

How do independent schools need to respond to the shift?

1. Realize you are battling with your peers over a declining market. Differentiating your product is essential — the traditional New England boarding school experience can be had many places, and the cost to value calculation is being conducted more often than you think.  Your brand must differentiate you.

2.  People outside of the I-95 corridor don’t understand boarding schools. That’s why the highest proportion of boarding school attendees come from just six states, according to The Association of Boarding Schools.  Creating new boarding school families is critical, but it’s an expensive proposition that independent schools haven’t budgeted for. By one calculus, a prospect needs to be exposed to messaging 30 times before the product or service has a shot at entering the consideration set, and that’s assuming your targeting is precise enough to find the most likely people to be prospects.

3.  People have good choices other than independent schools. Many cities with challenging public schools not only have great private options, they have charter schools and parochial schools that compete with your school. Even in cities that are struggling, there are people who believe in public schools and want to support them, or who want a religious education, (or who just want to be five minutes closer to school), rather than send their kids to yours.

4.  For boarding schools and private high schools, the kids are driving the decision process, and they aren’t reading your viewbooks and brochures, or your letters. They’re using Instagram and Facebook to find your current students and evaluate your school from that angle. They hit your website looking for multimedia content that’s real, open, honest and focused on them. They find your followers on Twitter and engage on Snapchat. They don’t care about your marketing messages, they care about discovering the real story of your school.  They don’t read long articles. They are harsh judges.

5. Digital marketing is more targeted, more effective and more measurable than analog marketing. It can be efficient, too (ask me for details), but it still takes budget and expertise. It’s more than search engine optimization or buying Google Adwords (which can get spendy very quickly), it’s managing your digital strategy from objectives to creative in concert with your other communications. Public relations, social media, internal communication, parent communications and alumni communications all play crucial roles in the marketing mix. You need experience and talent to manage all of that.

It’s doable. But your school has to let go of the ego-centric conceit that it doesn’t NEED marketing because of its history, its venerable buildings, its location or its alumni base. The world is changing fast, and only the adaptable will survive.

Data retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml , 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry (SSATB)  This post also appeared on LinkedIn. 

 

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Employee comms planning requires research

Friday, July 25th, 2014

186140619We shouldn’t need to say it. As internal communicators, we’re one of the few in an organization who can take the pulse of the firm. Even in our editorial roles, we talk to people all the time. We (hopefully) know the business, its goals, challenges, strengths. We understand leadership’s priorities and how communication can help move them forward. We’re the experts.

We need to make decisions based on facts and data, not conjecture and conventional wisdom. That takes research.

I’m not saying it all has to be quantitative, academically bullet-proof (though that doesn’t hurt), but we’re the only ones who can bring employee intelligence forward to the leadership. We need to find the balance between just executing and doing proper outreach, judging the effectiveness of our messaging, channels, tools and techniques.

Imagine a conversation with your boss like this:

B – What’s happening with our employees?

U – We got 400 hits on our strategy story last week!

B – So?

U – Uhhhhhh.

Been there?  It should be more like this:

B – What’s happening with our employees?

U – We got a lot of comments on the strategy story. Most were OK, but a couple of them make me think we need to test some other ways of explaining the strategy to make it more relevant to more people.  I followed up with a couple of calls to some people, and I have some ideas about what to do differently.

B – Tell me more!

That’s a different dynamic.  We need more research up front, more evaluation during our communication activities, and more measurement afterward to connect with business objectives.  I know internal commsters are totally slammed, but this is about being a serious business person. No other department gets away with ignoring this vital discipline.

How about it? What prevents you from using research in your work? What holds you back?

 

 

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To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Ansgar ZerfaßIt was disappointing to learn that public relations people, even at the topmost level in an organization, are not seen as the go-to person on communication topics among senior leaders, according to a study involving more than 600 German executives.

In research presented at the International PR Research Conference this year, Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig and newly minted M.A. Muschda Sherzada surveyed CEOs, managing directors and executive board members of German corporations in ten industries. They discovered several interesting findings, including:

  • Mass media is more influential on corporate reputation than social media — 96% to 71%
  • Personal communication by leaders is more impactful than that of professional communicators — 87% to 65%
  • When exchanging views on building public opinion or communication strategies, peers on the board or in functional divisions are most important, versus the contribution of the communicators or communication departments — 87% to 64%
  • CEOs and other top execs say motivating employees, fostering corporate trust and supporting a positive image are the most important objectives of corporate communications, more than fostering dialogue with stakeholders and gaining trust among journalists.
  • Marketing communications and financial communications are rated the most effective sub-disciplines in corporate comms, but internal communication is seen as most relevant.

That comms pros aren’t seen as the first choice when it’s time to talk communication strategy is telling. Many of my colleagues say that they are business people who use communication skills in service of company objectives. But clearly in Germany, our function is tactical, not strategic, and communicators focus too little on internal communications and effective counsel.

What is it like in your organization?

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A communicator’s manifesto for 2014

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

no_year_in_reviewNo predictions, no year-in-review. Instead, how about a statement of first principles? Can you dig it?

Resolved: Whether in internal communication, PR measurement or strategic communications, we will be fearless, ruled by the right thing to do rather than the facile, easy or merely expedient. Therefore:

  • As the internal experts in communication, we will have facts and data at our disposal to support our strategies and tactics. We will do research, ongoing measurement and evaluation to ensure that our activities are having the desired impact on business results. Because we care most about that, we won’t allow ourselves to be wedded to our tools — social, electronic, print, whatever. Instead, we will do as every other department in our organization must do: be judged by our impact and value. We will measure at the output, communication outcome and business results levels (output, outtake, outcome), and if we don’t know how to do so, we’ll educate ourselves.
  • We will not cede the public relations field to marketing, embracing the credo that while all marketing is communication, not all communication is marketing! Neither shall we use marketing metrics for non-marketing activities out of inertia, expediency or lack of interest. Nor will we by word, deed or omission allow social media to be subsumed solely into the “marketing mix,” advocating instead for a truly strategic approach to the use of social tools as well as all the other tools in our cabinet.
  • We will insist on transparency from our vendors, never settling for “black box” methods. We recognize the unique value our vendors may bring to the table, but we will need to understand how their many miracles in return on investment, value of Facebook likes, financial values in nonfinancial situations, etc., actually work in practice. We will compare notes and seek metrics beyond anecdotes.
  • We will develop SMART objectives — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — because performance against objectives is the most basic and appreciated mode of measurement for any communicator. It is these objectives — and the process of setting them — that lead us to our strategies and tactics. They give us purpose, drive, ambition and business life, a reason for being.
  • We will embrace the simple fact that we are business people — regardless of industry, specialty or education, we are business people first, using communication skills, tactics and strategies in support of business objectives. We therefore will be more than merely conversant in the language of business; we will employ it when we talk of what we do, who we are and the roles we play in our organizations.

These are weighty responsibilities, my friends. Are you up to the challenge?

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Look out IT: You’re getting AMMO

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

fusionsquareToday I’m in Nashville, for Fusion 13, the itSMF/HDI international conference, where at 11:15 a.m. I’ll teach a batch of IT folks how to transform their communication skills.  I’ll brief them on using the AMMO tool (audience, message, method, objective), then they’ll practice using it on their business issues.

Fusion 13 is a massive conference — nine tracks (which means nine sessions per breakout period) — primarily hardcore IT stuff. The centerpiece of the program is IT service management, which essentially says that IT needs to be a strategic competency of an organization.  I got some exposure to itSMF through its Cleveland local interest group. I attended their conference and was struck by the similarities to marketing, PR or HR conferences: bring us in at the beginning, we can add value, we’re not just tactical…etc.

All of that is true, and my hope is, as (with respect) IT isn’t renowned for its communication skills, that there might be a couple of forward thinking organizations who might like to have me help them address the shortfall. Stay tuned.

My engagement with this conference is a toe in the water for a broader effort to talk less to communications/PR people, and more to people who are in the business — kind of a continuation of the “outcome-focused” measurement that many of us say is missing from PR. I’ve got experience in a number of industries, and worked with the IT department at one global company on a number of initiatives, so it’s hardly a foreign concept.

Banking, of course, is another area of potential application – after spending more than half my career at KeyCorp and NationalCity, having been a branch manager (albeit briefly) and worked in the business of the business, I have a different perspective on communication than a lot of my peers.

In the meanwhile, it’s here in the artificial but stunning confines of the Gaylord Opryland (2800 rooms), carrying the communication ball forward to the unknown realms of IT. Wish me luck.

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It’s all about communication

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Regardless of what field of public relations/corporate communications/ marketing/ social media you are in, your ability to communicate effectively and to use the tools of communication effectively are what make you different from other business people.  Yep, we are all business people — it doesn’t matter if we’re in-house, agency, researcher, academic, not-for-profit, or what.

Sometimes we forget that, and sometimes we forget that we are communicators.

Reading the New York Times’ Corner Office feature on the second page of the business section every Sunday reveals that 99% (not a real number – just, well, a lot of them) of the leaders featured say that their own effectiveness depends on communication. They value good communicators, succinct, cogent, thoughtful, planful. But it’s often not about the “telling” part of communication.

The apogee of my career came when Dennis Long, then the head of retail banking for KeyBank of Washington, told me that my communication style was going to be career-limiting. He said, “there’s a line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.”  He told me to make fewer statements and ask more questions, to realize that I didn’t have much of a base of experience on which to demand people take heed.

This echoed my boss, Rob Gill, who told me, “You are a talented guy, but you don’t have enough experience…” Rob told me to start learning how to listen and ask good questions.

This took me aback – I’d heard from pretty much everyone how terrific I was since joining Key on the teller line, moving up quickly and eventually into the management training program.  We didn’t cover asking questions, listening or really anything else but effective presenting in that program. I thought it was about positioning myself as an expert, making pithy, amusing, but still important comments based on my experience not only at Key, but also in my years elsewhere.

Communicating, to me then, was about me — not about other people. Now, I see it quite differently.  It’s about our audiences, the receivers of our communication, certainly — but they also are human beings deserving of respect as sources of wisdom.

In many communication professions, we scorn our publics — they’re too stupid to understand our brilliant campaign, they’re clueless about how our business works, or merely disdainful of business in general. They’re ignoramuses who don’t understand the Very Important Work our not-for-profit does in the world!

As a part-time educator, I’ve learned the hard way to respect the students – not merely as the vessels into which I pour wisdom, but as participants in an almost sacred ritual: Communication.  We don’t have it without them, without the circle, never ending or completing; always open at some end.

I’m so grateful to Dennis Long and Rob Gill.

It takes commitment to be a business person who uses communication, who is a communicator. It takes courage and a desire to do right. It’s my calling.

Is it yours?

 

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PRSA’s Corbett: ‘You’d think that companies would learn from history. But they don’t’

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Gerry Corbett has surely seen it all in some forty years of communicating. But social media is what has him worked up these days, and not the way you might think.

Corbett, the immediate past chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), sees social not as the end of corporate communication, but as the catalyst for the discipline’s reinvention.  At a joint luncheon of the Cleveland chapters of PRSA and the National Investor Relations Institute, Corbett said that both public relations and investor relations (and for that matter, marketing and employee communications) were properly part of a single activity: communicating with and building relationships between organizations and various stakeholders.

“Investor relations and public relations are likely to merge,” Corbett said, “because both are communicating and advocating for organizations, whether to employees, customers, media, investors or analysts.”

He remarked that only a consolidated communication executive can solve the trouble that ensues when messaging among these many publics becomes inconsistent and disjointed, especially in an age when just about anyone can seize the attention of companies. “With social media, anyone has a podium and can have their way.”

Corbett drove home the point by saying that communicators are the only ones who can properly educate the C-Suite on social media, and that with social media use rising in every aspect of corporate communication, the coordinated approach is the only alternative, as is reporting to the CEO.

The CFO is worried about funding the business, not about messaging, and if the CEO isn’t paying attention, he or she is failing to assert full responsibility as only that position can, he said.  The advent of social media is only the latest innovation that companies may be failing to embrace. “You’d think that companies would learn from history. But they don’t,” Corbett said.

My take

It was a good talk, but the big value for me was the Q and A following. Corbett’s best in dialogue and response, and unlike many sessions where one struggles to get the participants to open their mouths other than to devour the ubiquitous chicken, there were good, strategic questions, including a lulu from Melanie Eyerman of thunder::tech — how do you convince reluctant CEOs who don’t understand social media or its importance?

Corbett offered that building relationships at that level, becoming a Consigliere to leadership, a trusted advisor, even taking the CFO out for drinks, are all valid strategies. I’m not sure about the last one — it’s pretty hard to break past the gatekeepers at that level unless you’re already at the table.

That question intrigues me, though I suppose you do so the same things to sell any idea at the top of the house: figure out the communication style of the leader and present your case in that form; research thoroughly and articulate both benefits and risks, etc.  It’s the research angle (duhhh) that I think is most valid, unless the person you’re trying to convince has categorical short-attention-span disease. I want to explore that concept further, perhaps at a happy hour.

A number of other ideas circled around my weary synapses — place social in the category of issues management (however laughable the idea of managing issues might be in the age of social…) — write a white paper called “making sense of social media” and don’t use any “social media gurus” as sources — focus more on broad communication outcomes than on narrow marketing ones when it comes to social — dig hard for social case studies within specific industries, and don’t use Dell or Comcast unless you’re a) selling online, or b) making a case for communication to take  over customer service.

Definitely worth the luncheon. Besides, I got to hang out with Ann-Marie Halal, Rick Batyko, Laurie Mitchell, Tom O’Konowitz , Dave Meeker, and Jim Roop!

 

Note: I’m having a devil of a time posting images to this blog ever since it changed URLs last year. I’m open to suggestions!

 

 

 

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Putting Management on the Nice List

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

By Amanda Marko

It’s the time of year when we’re all making our lists and checking them twice. A recent stop at the rental car counter gave me a peek at what me employees have on their wish lists.

While waiting for my keys, I overhead a customer pointed out that a policy was being implemented differently at another branch. The employees didn’t argue the point; instead they were eager to comply, but also quick to lament that management hadn’t shared the information with them. From the sounds of the conversation, this wasn’t the first time management had failed to convey a policy change.

The employees seemed disappointed, frustrated and a little embarrassed. They were earnestly trying to provide excellent customer service, but they felt doomed to fall short of a standard set by the leadership.

The rental car company is far from alone. “Tell us what you’re doing, so we know what we should be doing,” is a cry from employees that doesn’t get heard at the highest levels of many organizations.

Employees want to be a part of the solution, but if they don’t know the reasons for policies, procedures and initiatives, their hands are tied when it comes to execution. Employees need to know the why so they can have confidence in their role.

Management can give employees what they really want by making a list of its own. Instead of a wish list, it’s a to-do list that will make the business strategy the guide for of every person in every corner of the organization.

• Share the rationale for the strategy – don’t shield employees from harsh realities.
• Personalize the strategy for individuals, teams, regions, business units and functional areas.
• Put measurements in place and celebrate progress.
• Tell stories of all types of employees demonstrating the model behaviors.
• Encourage employees to contribute ideas within the framework of the strategy, and then implement them.

Your business strategy is powerful. It can motivate, inspire and guide everyone in the organization. Used correctly, the strategy can help management build trust, remove barriers, and protect the brand. When employees understand the strategy, they will be empowered to set priorities and execute consistently.

What else should be on management’s to-do list to make employees’ wishes list come true?

Amanda Marko, president of Connected Strategy Group, connects companies with stakeholders to make the business strategy reality and goals achievable during times of change. Connect with her online at www.connectedstrategygroup.com and on Twitter @connectedstrat.

 

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IABC Heritage Region Conference: Outstanding

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Professional association conferences can be rather tedious affairs. They’re hard to program owing to the wide variety of experience of membership, the need for a balance of presenters between people who are selling something and those who are merely sharing, and no small disparity in skill as a public speaker. I know, because I’ve worked on several of them. One conference I’ve come to appreciate is the  International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) regional conference for members in the upper-right quadrant of the U.S. — the Heritage Region. When the Heritage conference came to Cleveland in 2009, I ran sponsorships, and in 2010 for Philadelphia, I was speakers co-chair and introduced a keynote speaker, and in 2011, I spoke in Detroit.

This year, Pittsburgh was the venue, and I sponsored the event and conducted a breakout session on employee engagement. It was an excellent conference, filled with first-rate programming at a fraction of the cost of other, larger ones.

I met some new people (which is the main goal for me at these things, along with having the chance to present), and heard some excellent communicators share interesting perspectives on our profession and its future. Here, briefly, a few of my observations:

Alison Davis got us started with an inspiring, if familiar, call to earn our stripes as strategists. Davis is a good speaker, and my only complaint is that the message is pretty basic stuff (see above on comment about the difficulty of programming when many levels are in the room).  But her methods were fun to hear, and she used Joan Jett and Bob Seger to open and close her talk.

Dina Wolfman Baker reorganized her communication department to align with an organizational refit, and started the process with primary research among 30 stakeholders, plus a time study to see where staff time was being spent. It’s rare, in my experience, to see so strategic a method for reorganization. The process too frequently is more political and financial — wider spans of control, certain number of reports by budget, etc.  Baker’s insights emerging from the research weren’t limited to structural questions, either — one factiod — a disconnect among leadership in expectations regarding willingness to accept advice from communicators and sharing strategy with them. The new structure brought more focus and expertise to bear on the topics that mattered most to the organization.

Robin McCasland runs internal communication for an IT services firm facing cultural change owing to acquisitions. She focused on the combined company’s shared distinctiveness and the appeal to a higher purpose to reinvigorate leadership enthusiasm and employee identification with the essentially new firm. But, she doesn’t ignore, either, the very real need to ramp up understanding of the industry and business among employees as the company looks to grow.

Erin Dick, whom I try never to miss on a dais, gave a terrific talk on a familiar topic – the ever increasing pace of change in society, including in the communication field. Dick is a high-energy, entertaining speaker who really gave a clinic on how to give a presentation. Great multimedia, enthusiasm and excitement (and some really cool, even scary new tech that’s already here, not just in the future.)

Jeff Hutson, who I got to introduce, had the unenviable position of kicking off the second conference day at 8 a.m. after the inevitable dinner out at the end of day one. Jeff is a research geek like me, and he shared some practical tools to help math-o-phobic communicators get over their fear and embrace the numbers — or at least, embrace someone who knows how to embrace the numbers. This notion informs a class I teach at Kent State University on measurement and ROI in communications — the goal isn’t to teach people to do measurement, it’s to help people do an RFP and evaluate the people who’ll do the work.

Betsy duWaldt, a colleague and Kent and former head of internal comms at First Energy Corp., is finishing up her Ph.D. at Duquesne, and she shared First Energy’s path to reinventing its employee communication — including a fascinating look at how the CEO won over a skeptical workforce. (Sorry Betsy, no photo!)

D. Mark Schumann, amid his trademark flowing mane of steel-grey hair and frequent self-deprecating quips, called on us to reinvent our profession and ourselves in our third keynote, then presided over a panel discussion where four breakout facilitators (including Moi) shared details and action steps that participants suggested to complete that reinvention.  It was a great close to two great days.

I may be largely “done” with IABC’s international conference, but the Heritage is a must for me.

I’m seeing a lot of IABC this fall — I’m speaking in mid-November at the IABC/PRIME Research conference in New York and talking employee communication measurement. Should be a great time — and another great, small conference from my longest-tenured professional association.

P.s. Why do I think IABC, PRSA, etc., are valuable, and what are my concerns and complaints about them? See this post on PR Conversations.

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