Posts Tagged ‘communication vehicles’

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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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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Skills for PR need revision, research finds

Friday, March 28th, 2014
Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) listen.

Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) and others listen.

Public relations educators might need to re-examine the core curriculum to keep newly minuted pros relevant in the current market, according to research by Kent State University’s Prof. Michele Ewing.  A qualitative study of the required skills and knowledge for entry-level advertising and PR majors finds that planning, writing, multimedia and business knowledge are among the most urgently needed competencies.

Professor Ewing conducted interviews with 31 pros ranging from CEOs to mid-level professionals across agency, corporate and not-for-profit organizations, and the results were presented at the 17th International PR Research Conference, March 6-10, 2014.

The findings:

Strategic communications planning: Understanding of research and comms strategy is the foundation of PR education. Students must have critical thinking skills and grasp the basics of planning and measurement.

Writing across multiple platforms: Telling stories appropriately for the medium, including content intended to go directly from organization to stakeholder. Yes, we do need people who know the difference between writing a post-length piece versus a feature versus an objective piece.

Multimedia storytelling: Social, mobile, online — they all depend on imagery, audio, video, text, infographics… Visual storytelling is a great phrase, and knowing the power of graphics and imagery and how to lever them appropriately is essential. So is knowing your Adobe suite.

Interpersonal communication: You’ve got to be able to speak, present, engage, persuade, face to face, online and in print.

Digital: Social media and data analytics, including the strategic understanding of engaging audiences through these new tools, but that engagement is only the beginning. Community management, multimedia for social, online and mobile, and the ability to use data analytics to both develop strategy and measure its effect.  More important, it’s the ability to make sense of the data as applied to business issues and problems to facilitate decision-making.

Converged media: Owned, earned and paid work together, and pros need to know how to apply each in service to wider goals. Paid or sponsored social content was an area of emphasis noted.

Business knowledge: Understanding how businesses work, including entrepreneurship, business development, profit margin and bottom line, distribution and purchasing, basic economics… Yes, we still need to address our aversion to numbers as a profession and be business people who happen to lever communication skills.

Exposure to key practice areas: Internal communications, media relations, public affairs, issues and reputation management — but also industry sectors, B2B, healthcare, crisis, energy and technology communications are growth areas in our practice.  But, specializing as an expert in one or more of these is seen as preferable to the generalist approach.

Congrats to Michele on a terrific presentation of a very important topic.  What would you add in the way of advice to improve the curriculum?

 

 

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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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What I learned at Fusion 13 – the IT conference

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

iStock_000027047431LargeFish out of water doesn’t begin to describe the experience.  The itSMF and HDI — two professional services organizations focusing on information technology people — held their annual conference this week, Fusion 13, and I presented the AMMO method to about 50 attendees.

The speaking part went very well from my perspective — the people in my session were great — upbeat, positive, involved — and they really seemed to get a lot out of putting the Audience-Message-Method-Objective method to work.  With just an hour to work with, it was a crash course, but judging from the visible reactions and the comments, they found it valuable.

The trick for them now is to put AMMO to work — that’s always the conference imperative, right?

I attended some sessions as well as two of the keynotes, and confirmed my earlier assessment that every staff function — IT, Marketing, PR, HR, whatever — has the same strategic issues. Namely, how do we increase our perceived value in the strategic sense?

Change management was a hot topic, and Paul Wilkinson of  the Dutch company GamingWorks and Sharon Taylor of Canada’s Aspect Group evangelized on the need to articulate the value to the business, the desired business outcomes, the costs and risks of a change initiative in order to have any shot at success.  These are the four key words that describe a service. Wilkinson mentioned that he’d asked about 6,000 IT professionals, 90% of whom had completed their ITIL coursework (the framework for service management), what those four key words were. A large majority got them wrong.

One participant mentioned that this had been the case in IT for 30 years — if we asked the question of communicators “what are the keys to getting budget and people in your department?” what would they say?  I hope they’d say that success depended on articulating value, cost, risks and business outcomes!

Barb Dombrowski of Progressive shared a case study of their knowledge management program. This KM stuff involves creating specific content that the service desk (including multiple levels of support) uses in the course of working with callers. The goal is “production readiness,” and adopting a standardized template for the “articles” enforced search criteria and ensured the right material got to the right support people for the right issues.   Progressive went from 3,000 KM articles just three years ago to more than 19,000.  Now, Dombrowski and team are working on the quality of those articles, seeking to measure extent of use and weed out the weak items

We communication folks think we’re the resident experts in communication in the organization. Maybe reaching out to the IT people, in particular those in KM, will make us smarter.

I’ll also mention the terrific keynotes I caught – Cindy Solomon burned up the stage with a high-energy, often hilarious talk about the four types of courage — blind courage (just leap!), crisis courage (expressing calm when the world is blowing up around us), role courage (the confidence of knowing your authority in a given role) and core courage (the courage that comes from servant leadership, being unafraid of admitting you don’t know something, etc.)

Josh Linkner talked of creativity — of being willing to let go of the past and look to the future, to fail well and often and learn from the experience. He says we can learn from jazz — how to be creative and a great teammate.   He’s the founder of ePrize, which he sold for a boat load of cash, and now a venture capitalist based in Detroit. He, too, was an entertaining speaker who’d have been at home at a marketing, PR or HR conference.

I had client meetings to run home to, so I missed the Tuesday night party, but the Monday receptions and jam-packed Gaylord Opryland Hotel (vast, huge, capacious) made for a fun environment.  If they are interested in having me back, I’d gladly go!

 

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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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The simple pleasure of ‘Attenzi’

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

http://www.attenzi.com/If Philip Sheldrake‘s eBook, Attenzi — A Social Business Story, were a paperback novel, it would be a slender tome, perhaps similar to Who Moved My Cheese.  Like the legendary Spencer Johnson fable on change, Attenzi uses a fictional story to make a factual point. In this case, that social business (not just social media) is a revolution that should change how businesses sell, operate and succeed.

Sheldrake constructs the book almost as a diary, with Attenzi CEO Eli Appel as the narrator. Appel talks about taking the reins as leader, about the team and its strengths and weaknesses, and about his own fears and misgivings as he embraces social business. Attenzi is a kitchen appliance maker, a brand once dominant in the high-end sector that had started to slip.  Social represents an opportunity not to merely sell through a new channel, but to recast the relationships between Attenzi and its customers and other constituents.

In the process, Appel and his team learn what’s right and wrong with the company, how it stayed on its path in the face of a changing marketplace, and how a lack of innovation was threatening the firm.  Readers follow a set of appealing characters through the story, and arrive at a happy ending (albeit predictably) .

Aside from a couple of preachy, awkward discussions as the shades fall from the characters’ eyes, it’s a solid work that has a lot to say about perception of change, resistance to it, and the experimental nature of  innovation when it embraces the transparent, social, customer-up style of modern business.

It’s really hard to write dialogue for a business context. I’ve written two short plays for a client, and it’s a real challenge to include the insider language (whilst avoiding jargon where possible) and drive toward the points you’re trying to make. Sheldrake succeeds substantially; as I say, there are a couple of times where the two-person dialogue stretches credibility as natural speech, but that’s a miniature cavil for certain.

Appel (the Attenzi CEO) strikes a good balance between pushing for change and evaluating what has and hasn’t worked.  The leadership team doesn’t reflexively dismiss him (apparently not even privately; that would make for a good subplot in an expanded edition of the book).  Attenzi doesn’t have to deal with a crippling crisis in the midst of the renaissance.

I enjoyed the book because of its simple and even idealistic view that business can change by being less closed, less secretive. I liked that social wasn’t just media, just another extension of the marketing mix, beholden to the world of increasing impressions and required conversion.  Social for me is broader than that, the embodiment of what’s become my axiom and watchcry: “All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.”

Attenzi makes that point, creatively, succinctly.  Kudos, Mr. Sheldrake.

Now, go read the book and tell me what you think.

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I miss blogging

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

OK, I’m kind of lying. I don’t miss the blogging I did four years ago. You know, the blogging I did because I didn’t have a job or clients and needed to do something productive.

I talk to people “in transition” frequently. I try to say “yes” as much as possible, because I remember what it’s like. Communication AMMO still has just one employee, and it only now seems like it’s going to allow me to earn a living for a while. But it’s a darn site better than the waiting many of our colleagues have gone through for the past few years.

Blogging is a little bit of an ego trip, so obviously, I’m not doing it right. The frequency of posting is way down, and so to is the number of people reading my fevered musings. I’m not feeling very fascinating these days. I’m putting most of my energy into work for clients, work for classes taught and work for volunteer opportunities.

I DO feel like I still have something to say. So, don’t be too surprised if I’m a little more visible than in recent months in this space.

In the meantime, if you are in position to hire people, don’t turn your back on folks who’ve been out of the game for a while. If you can use an extra hand, reach out to a colleague working on launching their own gig. Be generous as you can be, even if only with your time, your support, and your coffee.

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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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