Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 2

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

In last week’s blog post, I shared with you two key parts of building your company’s message document, and this week, I’ll highlight the remaining two—must-say messages and “factsheets.”

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

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Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 1

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

Remember the “telephone” game we used to play as kids? You’d whisper into the ear of your friend something like: “Alf doesn’t know where Kate went” and, after making its way from person to person, the phrase would come out of the last kid’s mouth as “Kate would make a great president.”

The same thing happens in business. That’s because many companies—even large, well-established ones—often don’t make time to define their company and its benefits in writing so they can be understood, and then create a good, solid set of messages. Instead, information gets passed around, email by email, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services. The sales people are telling potential customers one thing, the marketers are saying another and the CEO, something else entirely.

The Power of a Unified Message

Customers won’t buy if they don’t understand exactly what it is they are being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can’t figure you out, they’re not going to pay attention. Both the definition and the messages can be used by every member of your staff – and others outside of your company who champion your cause, service or product – as a roadmap for effective communication. A group of people, all using the same key talking points consistently is a very powerful communication and public relations tool!

My company, RDC Public Relations, LLC, has worked with dozens of organizations to create effective key messages.

A good message document has four parts:

  1. The company ID
  2. The elevator speech
  3. 4-5 key must-say messages that need to get into all your communications, from press interviews to presentations.
  4. Overall messages: the “factsheet” stuff that everyone on the team needs to know.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the first two parts of a good message document, and next week, we’ll take a look at the last two pieces.

1) The Company ID

With a bit more detail, the elevator speech (#2) can be expanded into the company ID (No. 1).  The company ID is most often called the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases. It need not be difficult to create a good, solid definition. Start by looking at what your competitors say about themselves. Yours needs to be more compelling than theirs, of course. So, look at all your communication—marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, the web site and the slogans on those little frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can’t find at least three markedly different ways in which your company has been defined, you’re not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they are engraved on the building.

2) The Elevator Speech

Creating a killer elevator speech is critical. It’s the 15-second answer to the question, “So what does your company do?” What they are really asking is “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to interest a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee.

Look at it from your customers’ perspective. If you are a gadget maker, it’s not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it makes life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you “make software” — thousands of companies do. But if you make software that “helps law enforcement officers around the world share evidence and close otherwise unsolvable cases,” that’s compelling. Compare that to “we’re a software company that makes products for law enforcement.” Once you draft your elevator speech, try it out on everyone, particularly employees and customers. They’ll tell you quickly if you’re off base. Then, when you have the right one, go back and incorporate it into all your communication.

That’s a quick look at your company ID and elevator speech and how they’re critical to your messaging. Next week, we’ll explore the must-say messages and “factsheet” for your company.

What Your Email Says About Your Brand

A Case Study: Your Emails

Digital branding starts in your inbox.

It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, “This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!”

What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?

Continue reading

Message Development: Thinking Inside the Box

To start thinking about message development, consider the following questions:
• Your friend wants to try a new Italian restaurant for dinner. You’re craving sushi. How do you convince her to pick up the chopsticks?

• A CEO doesn’t see the value of starting a company’s twitter feed. What’s the best way for the marketing department to show him that tweeting can bolster the bottom line?

• A government agency wants to reduce the number of teenagers texting while driving. How do they convince “invincible” teens that this behavior is dangerous?
What do these questions have in common? The answer is the need for message development. Whether your goal to enjoy a sushi dinner or promote teen driver safety, the secret to success is developing messages that resonate with the audiences’ values and opinions.
How can you do that? Try using a message box. This tool offers communicators a framework for producing carefully-crafted messages that both respond to a particular audience’s needs and preferences while reinforcing how “the ask,” or desired action, relates to their values.

The messages produced can be used separately or together to achieve a desired outcome. Sometimes, several message boxes need to be created for a particular audience based on themes or ideas that resonate with them. For example, one message box for the CEO could be focused on the business case for twitter while another could focus on how participating in twitter would reinforce company’s commitment to customer service.

The Message Box in Action

Let’s go back to the question about the government agency and their education campaign about texting while driving. The following chart defines each element of the message box and shows messages that could be used for convincing teens that texting while driving as a dangerous activity.

Type of Message Definition Example
The Ask The desired action for the target audience to take. Stop texting while driving.  
The Barrier Message This message counters an audience’s key misconceptions about the particular topic. There should be a message to refute each barrier the target audience(s) may present. Statistics, analogies and quotes are powerful tools for overcoming barriers. Barrier:
I only look at my phone for a few seconds when I text. I can still see what is going on.  Message to Overcome It:
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field at 55 miles an hour while blind. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?
The Value Message This message is used to connect with a value the audience has about a topic. Not texting while driving doesn’t just mean you will stay safe. It means you will keep your license and others on the road will be safer.
The Vision Message This message reinforces the value message point. It highlights the benefits audience members reap if they take the action in “the ask.”  If  you stop texting while driving, you can  enjoy the privilege of driving and staying safe at the same time.

Do you think that the message box could help you create compelling more messages for you and your clients? Let me know what you think.

Sarah Vogel is a Senior Account Executive at TMNcorp, a full-service communications company in Silver Spring, MD.  Follow her on Twitter @TMNcorp or connect with her on LinkedIn.

7 Skills That You Really Need to Make It in PR

I’ve met a lot of incredibly capable PR people who are not going to get very far in the PR world. That’s because in order to become a valued professional in today’s marketplace, PR pros need much more than the talent to communicate.

Feb 13 program

Today’s successful PR pro needs the “hard” business skills to become a valued business partner and not a mere tactician. PRSA-NCC’s annual “From PR Manager to PR Leader” half-day seminar on Feb. 13 will share some of these skills that PR people need to take their career to that next level. Here are just a few.

1) Become self-aware first 
A good manager looks in the mirror first. Do you really know your management strengths and weaknesses and are you willing to do the hard work to minimize your deficiencies? Do you know your personality type and management style and are you willing to accept constructive criticism? If you are willing to work hard to improve your management skills, then those you lead will do the same.

2) Manage “up”
Do you know how to work with the C-suite folks so they value and recognize your skills and the value you bring? Do you know their priorities and how to show them that you help address them? If you are not focused on managing this all-important relationship, you won’t even get a chance to take your career to the next level.

 3) Become budget savvy
Can you develop and manage a budget for your programs, campaigns, or accounts? You don’t do the PR profession any favors if you say, “I’m a PR person, I don’t need to know math” (yes, I’ve heard it.) To be taken seriously by the C-suite (see above) you need to show that you appreciate and understand the bottom line and can provide a return on investment for your PR activities.

4) Listen up
I’m not going to win a lot of friends by saying this but a lot of us PR people forget that communication is a two-way street. We are so focused on our elevator pitch and talking points that we sometimes forget that the best way to win people over is by listening (really) to their needs first and then demonstrating how we can meet those needs. Human interaction is never about you. It’s always about them.

5) Handle conflict with style
Can you manage irate clients, contractors, colleagues and other emotionally charged people? Every manager will encounter conflict at some point. Knowing how to calmly ratchet down emotions is the difference between a star manager and one who is not.

6) Put people first
Do you know how to motivate people and enhance team dynamics? We are only as good as the people around us. If we can get our teams to cohesively work together and smooth over the inevitable rough patches, we can keep moving forward.

7) Avoid burnout
The PR business can be a 24/7 grind so you need to manage the elusive work/life balance and learn tactics for getting organized, pacing yourself and delegating to others. Otherwise, you won’t be around long enough to make it far in the PR profession.

The above is only a starting point (feel free to add your own in the comments below) but if you learn these skills you will have a decided advantage as you advance in your career. Most of us learn these skills when we’re thrown in the management pool for the first time and told to “sink or swim.” But if we prepare ourselves with these managements skills ahead of time, we will be prepared to take that plunge with confidence.

About Jeff Ghannam
A former president of PRSA-NCC, Jeff Ghannam brings more than 20 years of experience in corporate and non-profit communications and journalism. He is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, a consultancy serving the association and nonprofit community with integrated communications and marketing services and leadership training targeted at communications staff. The “From PR Manager to PR Leader” seminar on Feb. 13 will be the third such annual seminar he has delivered for PRSA-NCC.

Jeff was previously vice president of communications and marketing for the Biotechnology Institute in Arlington, Va. Jeff’s career experience includes news reporting, editing, and PR management, all of which led him to hone his management and leadership skills. Jeff has conducted leadership training workshops for organizations that want to maximize their human resources potential so they can better achieve their strategic objectives. He cites real-life PR management-based examples and scenarios and uses an engaging and interactive format that allows participants to address their specific management and leadership challenges.

The Advantages of Hiring a Professional for Your Employee Survey

The advent of low-cost, easy-to-use measurement tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey and Hosted Survey has opened the door to communicators eager to assess their employee communications efforts.  These tools offer templates, sample questions and instant reporting features, along with the ability to customize the look and feel of the survey to match the company’s branding.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these types of online survey tools, and work with them to set up post-event surveys, as well as ongoing employee polls to gather information on employee issues and morale concerns.

But when it comes to a more complex survey, such as an annual employee opinion survey, I advise them to bring in the big guns and hire a professional research firm to conduct the assessment.

A professional survey provider brings to the table a number of advantages that communications generalists can’t offer, such as:

  • Knowledge of best practices – how to drive responses, how to report results effectively, and how your company stacks up against others of similar size and type
  • Understanding of the latest survey technology and knowledge of the best product for your circumstances
  • Survey design expertise – not just the look and feel of the survey, but also the development of the questions themselves
  • Assessment and analysis – advice on how to interpret the data and how to report it to senior management and back to the employees

Probably the biggest advantage that a professional survey provider offers is that of being an outsider.  They come to the table free of any internal bias that might slant the survey questions or even color the results.  That “outsider” status often results in more candid responses from employees, since they know their comments can’t be traced back to their user ID.  Plus, senior management will likely take less offense at critical verbatim comments when delivered by “the survey guys” instead of the employee communications manager.

Employee surveys are a valuable tool, and in the hands of an expert, can help identify the company’s core strengths, as well as areas of concern.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

What Communicators Can Learn from the 2010 Census

U.S. Census LogoI received my 2010 U.S. Census form yesterday, right on schedule.  I knew it was “on schedule” due to a well-planned, well-coordinated communication campaign which launched in early February.

First it was a series of rather weird TV and radio spots, then an advance notice mailed to all U.S. households to let them know when to expect the form.  Last week, news outlets all over the country ran stories about the Census:  when it would arrive, how long it would be, how to fill it out, and how to spot a Census scam.

In addition, over the past few days, a number of local news stations have aired interviews with county and municipal officers.  These segments provided local officials with an opportunity to tell their constituents why it was important to participate in the census.

But here’s where it got interesting:  instead of falling back on appeals to our civic duty (after all, we’ve seen how well that has worked with elections and jury duty), their talking points centered on how the collected data is used to determine Congressional representation and voting districts, as well as how Federal funds are allocated to local governments. 

As parents deal with cutbacks in school funding in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, as the national debate over health care and other legislation becomes more and more polarized, the decision to drive participation by focusing on these hot button issues is nothing short of brilliant.

Employee communicators generate lots of surveys and polls.  And with rare exceptions, we are frustrated by low response rates, falling back on gimmicks such as contests and rewards to drive participation.

The danger with stuffing the survey box, so to speak, is that responses rarely reflect the views of the overall employee population, so we end up working from misleading data.  And a program based on faulty data is doomed to fail.

We should take a page from the U.S. Census’s book and stress to our employees how the data will be used to implement changes (or even, improvements!) in the way the business operates.  Perhaps if we can identify the appropriate hot button, we’ll see much higher participation and gather more meaningful data in our assessments.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.