Moving Communications from Tactical to Strategic Implementation

Inspiration for this post came from sports radio of all places.  Washington Nationals superstar, Bryce Harper, is in a contract year which creates a general sense of “outcome anxiety” that can become a major distraction for the player and organization.

I couldn’t believe my ears when the host suggested that the front office needs to have their PR team close at hand to prepare them for what the team, the manager and Harper himself are likely to face in terms of media scrutiny on the contract issue at every stop as the season unfolds.

10888776353_9c71574e19_z-620x248It struck me that this was both an excellent idea so that they can proactively prepare messaging adequately, and it is also a unique concept to elevate a PR team to a more strategic function within a baseball team.

Communications teams in organizations of all sizes are often brought in after a leadership decision (often semi-informed or outright flawed) to either promote a campaign, to clean up a bungled initiative or forced into an uncomfortable position to reactively handle a crisis response.

So many of these botched efforts (think the recent Dodge Super Bowl ad that used a sermon from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the various customer service fiascos perpetrated by airlines to very questionable celebrity endorsements) could have been triaged more appropriately, or avoided all together, if only communications professionals were at the table from the outset.

When everyday people are bemoaning how badly even a global brand handled a highly publicized issue, it’s high time to flip the script and work to showcase the bottom-line value of having communicators be an integral part of an organization’s strategic planning.

Here’s how:

  • Package your successes for leadership and don’t just share high-profile media coverage or a well-executed campaign – give the backstory on the strategic approach and any obstacles overcome that led to positive results. This will build your own credibility and value proposition to big-picture organizational thinking.
  • Ingratiate yourself into various business units to get a better sense of good story telling opportunities. This can help you stay in front of major organizational decisions that you can offer communications advice on.
  • Ask pointed questions that make leadership or decision makers think beyond their own narrow focus. This way you can advise on both how to best promote an idea, but (more importantly) you can share some worst-case scenarios that might ruin an initiative unless a few items are fine-tuned.
  • Create a brief PPT of well-known examples of “worst practices” of tone-deaf marketing campaigns or clumsy and debilitating crisis responses. Save to present to leadership soon after a well-publicized blunder happens – and these days, you won’t have to wait long to showcase instances of “we don’t want to be this.”
  • Read the room in meetings and see who might be most inclined to your point-of-view through body language. Be active in these meetings, but also be judicious as to when you speak up. It’s wise to wait until many perspectives have been put forth and you, through the communications lens, can give your perspective to help sway the strategic direction of whatever is being discussed.

The more you can position yourself as an asset to your organization’s everyday function, not merely the one who writes a press release to announce fill-in-the-blank, the more your counsel will be listened to and ultimately sought out.

It’s all about positioning yourself or your team to get crucial buy-in from leadership that communications needs to be an integral part of the overall planning process.

We will see if this happens with the Nationals this season or if they endure a constant drumbeat like the Redskins forced themselves into with the Kirk Cousins contract situation that has been a communications albatross around their neck for two years!

Internally, you want to function like one of the more famous advertising campaigns of the 1980’s, when EF Hutton talks…people listen.

 

By: Scott Frank, president of ARGO Communications and former Senior Director, Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects.

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4 Twitter Tips for Businesses and Organizations

By Sabrina McGowan

The explosion, variety and evolving nature of social media has created both PR opportunities and challenges for businesses and organizations. In an October 1 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies, offered her suggestions for leveraging Twitter to create greater interaction between you and your followers, and to increase your numbers.

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

  1. Define your audience. Customers, members, business partners and vendors are just a few of the people you should be following on Twitter. Professional and industry organizations as well as local businesses will likely produce additional followers for you, too. Don’t forget to follow your competitors for insight on how they’re engaging with your ideal customers.
  1. Build a content strategy. If you want to know what type of content you should share on Twitter, follow other accounts and decide what you like about them. You can also monitor conversations by using the “search” function to find examples of content you like. It’s important that you find the sweet spot between what your target audience wants to hear and what you want to say that promotes your business. So add value through your tweets and give people a reason to follow you. Lisa suggests following the 80/20 rule for your content strategy – 80% follower interaction (retweets, favorites, replies) and 20% offers. Creating a calendar will help you stay on task.
  1. Expand your reach. To get more interaction with your tweets, you need to be visual and creative. Your tweets should encourage immediate action from your followers, so include offers and calls to action. And don’t hesitate to ask for replies. You can increase your followers by putting your Twitter handle everywhere – be sure to add a follow button to your website and email signature, and ask your existing customers to follow you, too.
  1. Use Twitter ads effectively. Did you know that the click-through rate on Twitter is higher than Facebook – 3.6% vs. 0.4%? Twitter ads can be a great tool to increase followers and engagement as well as drive more traffic to your website. According to Lisa, Twitter ads are also great for lead generation. For example, you can grow your list via an ad that asks followers to enter their email address to receive a coupon or other offer. Keep in mind that Twitter ads can be pricey and that the most effective ads use photos and brief videos (under 30 seconds).

The key to Twitter is conversation, so use it to communicate with your followers, and let your personality shine. By focusing on how your products and services benefit your customers, you can help ensure your Twitter success.

Sabrina McGowan is the owner of SQM Communications, bringing creativity and integration to the communications efforts of non-profits, trade associations and forward-thinking businesses. Sabrina is also the marketing chair of the Independent Public Relations Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter at @sabrinaqmcgowan.

Finding a PR Firm Isn’t the Piece of Cake it Used to Be . . . and It Shouldn’t Be

Time was, searching for a PR firm meant jotting down a few requirements and shooting it to a few former colleagues or friends of friends at two or three familiar agencies.

Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn’t be. In today’s bottom line-focused ROI environment can you really invest six digits into an agency that may or may not be able to move the needle for your organization? You need to be assured you’re getting smart thinking and measureable results — and agencies should be accountable for their commitments to their clients.
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The agency landscape is wide, and wide open. Sometimes it feels like there are too many qualified agencies out there. But that shouldn’t guide you toward short cuts, or rushing the process. As we’ve pointed out many times to clients and prospects, if the money you have allocated to a PR agency budget were instead going toward the hiring of two or three full-time, professional staff, how much time and effort would you and your HR department spend investigating their backgrounds, capabilities, and knowledge?

The recently released USC Annenberg biennial GAP Study assessing PR industry trends and practices expects more money to be spent in 2014 and beyond for communications. The study of 347 senior communicators says that PR-related recommendations are being taken more into consideration by senior management, who expect the function to be a contributor to organizations’ financial success. Your organization should be selecting firms with proven experience in supporting your internal managerial needs as well as your overall communications goals.

Today’s agency field includes seasoned veteran agencies, mid-sized niche players, and a crop of very competent rookies that have left some venerable firms to blaze their own paths. Whether they are local, large, full service, or specialty, there are probably dozens of agencies out there most suitable for you. But the right agency can only be discerned through the lens of a detailed and thorough search that is tailored to your organization’s needs.

When interviewing prospective agencies it is critical to include process and procedure as key topics. Too often, we find confusion when the client-agency relationship begins if staffing, structure, reporting, billing, and event contracts are not discussed in the early phases. And, we’ve even advised clients that repairing agency relationships that have gone sour may be a better use of time and resources than parting ways with that agency and starting over with a new search.

Even agreeing on your mutual definition of success is no small feat, and so often is overlooked or not addressed during the selection process. With projects the issue might be easier (one would hope) but with longer-term, multi-year contracts it is very important to establish measureable benchmarks even before searching for your agency, and then making it clear that is what the selected agency will be judged on. Believe it or not, it will more appreciated than you’d expect. Because any good PR firm will tell you that a good client knows what it wants and has, or develops with the agency, the metrics of success.
– Robert Udowitz

Robert Udowitz is a principal of RFP Associates, a PR agency search firm serving trade associations and corporations. This was originally published on the RFP Associates “Cart Before the Horse” blog, which can be found at rfpassociates.net.

Making Your Association the Go-To Resource

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Imagine there’s breaking news dominating the airwaves—and it’s regarding your industry sector. This is your moment to shine, to take to the cameras or the microphone and share your polished expertise and your messages. You are the go-to source on this subject!

Or are you? Is your phone is ringing off the hook, or is it silent?  Without adequate preparation, visible messaging, and established audience relationships, you may be ignored or simply overlooked. They may not know they should come directly to you.

Whether during a crisis or in “peace time,” it can be a challenge for association communicators to own their space as a visible, go-to resource for a variety of audiences. But it can be achieved with a strategic plan in place, and this four-pronged approach you can help in crafting or revamping your group’s communications strategies.

1. Want to own it, and grab it. Don’t wait for it.

  • A proactive, comprehensive battle plan is important to get your group or organization ahead of  the latest stories, but first, you have to know exactly who you want to be, whatit is you want to do and say and to whom you want to communicate it to.
  • Is your audience a combination of consumers, media, regulators and legislators? Where are they getting their information? Identify existing gatekeepers, including trade media and other groups.
  • Audit media coverage; social channels, congressional records and regulatory comments – wherever your organization should be – and figure out whois getting traction with your issue. Are allied organizations taking your share of voice? Are you losing it to the opposition?
  • Get your leadership and spokespeople onboard with your plan by sharing this audit, and manage expectations from the outset. Executive support goes a long way toward success.

2. Get your house in order.

  • Shore up your messaging. Strengthen your message points and anecdotes, make them compelling and make them consistent and optimized across all platforms.
  • Audit your information and your digital platforms. Is your content fresh, original, optimized and interesting? Do you provide something of unique value? And are you updating your platforms regularly and using them to guide conversations on an issue?
  • Review relationships with reporters and influencers. It is easier to engage them if you have proactively determined who they are, what they are looking for and how to be a resource to them.

 3. Take Action and Prepare to React.

  • Proactively seek opportunities by researching editorial calendars, developing pitch copy and regularly delivering to media contacts. (Without spamming them of course!) Fly-ins, “lobby days” on Capitol Hill and a “speaker’s bureau” positioning your experts also increases your visibility.
  • Be reactive and responsive to the news landscape. In breaking news, pitch your available experts for comment. Respond to stories with notes to reporters, letters to the editor and op-ed/column submissions. Follow and interact with reporters in social channels, establishing relationships and responding to their work with positivity and “added value.” Keep an eye out for relevant Help a Reporter Out or ProfNet source requests.

4. Measure and Retool.

  • Assess how your association is doing. Have your spokespeople been quoted in more media hits or been sought directly for comment or advice? Has your issue area in general received more attention, and has your group’s point of view been included?
  • Celebrate your successes. Executive leadership and the C-Suite should know that dedication to a plan has led to positive results with an opportunity for growth.
  • Fine-tune your program where it needs shoring up. You’ll continually need to retool your assets and your plan in order to stay the go-to resource.

Francie Israeli has more than a decade of PR experience.  As Senior Vice President of KellenAdams Public Affairs, a division of Kellen Communications, she is responsible for strategic development and implementation of advocacy, media and issue-driven communications campaigns on behalf of a number of association and nonprofit clients.  She also serves as chair-elect of the Americas Region Board of Directors of the WORLDCOM Public Relations Group.