Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Makes a Great Brand

This past week we ran a workshop for one of the most successful community sector organisations in Canberra. The CEO and 35 of her staff spent the day actively exploring ways to move their already dynamic organisation to the next level of performance.

As part of strategizing the future, we asked people to identify organisations they most admired. What made them stand out? And how could they embed the qualities that made others successful, into their own organisation?

The team turned up a list of around 15 organisations they most admired. It was truly an eclectic mix, ranging from the Salvation Army to McDonalds to a popular home decorations magazine.

The group's dicussion identified four factors that make a brand succeed over the long term. An organisation must:

  • Have a consistent purpose and recognisable benefits.
  • Deliver those benefits day in, day out.
  • Continually reinvent itself as customer and community circumstances change.
  • Constantly communicate - to staff, customers and all the other organisations that shape its environment.

Each week thousands of words are written about branding. Yet we think this team of 35 passionate community workers provided one of clearest explanations we have seen about what a brand must do, to move from good to great.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Link Your Story to National News

Linking your issue, cause or concern to this week's headline news is one way of attracting media attention. After all your organisation might be able to offer a journalist another perspective on what people are already talking about.

But short of turning into a mega media junkie, how do you find out what's making news?

Each week Australian company, Media Monitors, shows graphs with the top five domestic, international, business, sports and talkback stories. They count the number of times a story has been mentioned across print, radio and television which is a good indication of what's hot and what's not.

So the next time you think about approaching the media check their media index to see where your story might fit.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Consulting Communities

The construction of New Zealand’s first toll highway due to open in 2009 has generated a significant community relations program. The consultation effort is providing information to residents along a seven mile route in the Auckland area.

How the highway construction has been communicated might hold lessons for others involved in infrastructure and environmental projects. These lessons include:

  • Community consultations often stop once a project gets the green light. But community relations - telling people what is happening and accommodating their concerns - really finishes when the project finishes and all the teething problems are resolved.
  • It’s the communicator’s job to identify communications risks and opportunities to project management. He or she must be at the table with engineers, planners and others from the start so community issues get the same attention as legal and other considerations.
  • Everyone working on the project – from the top boss to the plant operator – has to be briefed and buy into the community relations plan. Careless actions at any level can alienate a community and prejudice a project.
  • The communicator should work on the premise that you can never give people too much information when a project is likely to impact on their environment or quality of life.
  • Provide enough communications channels so everyone affected by the project receives information. Accurate, coordinated and timely information is the lifeblood of these channels.

The days of the old style town hall meeting as a communications channel could well be over. People are often too busy to gather in large groups to hear about a project. And besides, vocal critics can hijack public meetings to the exclusion of others genuinely wanting to find out what's happening and to air their concerns. Other types of meetings include:

  • Neighbours meeting in someone’s home for very localized briefings.
  • Inviting people to drop by the project office for regular updates.
  • Offering telephone briefings at convenient times.
  • Offering to speak to established local groups at their meetings.
  • Staffing displays in shopping centres or other high traffic areas.
  • Community kiosks where people can drop in to see what is happening.
  • Working with residents' panels that include critics as well as supporters.
  • Special websites or webpages.
  • Email to deliver tailored information to particular groups.
  • Project-specific blogs where people can comment.
  • Holding site inspections when projects hit milestones.
  • A regular project newsletter.
  • Localized letterbox drops.
  • A 24/7 toll free number so people can talk to someone who can speak authoritatively.
  • Passing information through local media.

Critics might say all this is just too expensive. But in the long run a genuine approach to consultations might be far cheaper than facing legal or political challenges from disaffected communities who feel they have been neglected.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Social Media to Reach Ratepayers

At the recent Local Government Public Relations Association Conference, Deakin University lecturer Ross Monaghan offered insights into how Australian councils can use social media to reach residents.

Monaghan argued social media provided local governments with valuable, yet largely unexploited, communication opportunities given it:
  • Is fast and cost effective (around $5000 should get an organisation set up to produce video, blogs, podcasts, wikis and other media)
  • Allows councils to directly engage people 24/7 in a more appealing way than plain text communications
  • Is becoming increasingly important as more people move on-line

But Monaghan pointed out it will not be all plain sailing for councils:

  • Many CEOs did not support or understand social media and some feared using it meant "losing control" of their information. As if they ever had control once information left council chambers.
  • PR staff sometimes lack skills to make best use of the new tools
  • IT departments are often not supportive
  • Access and equity issues come into play when not everyone has computers

He recommended local governments watch what others are doing in the social media space, experiment and gradually integrate the new media into their outreach efforts.

Are Newspapers Dying?

Predictions about the death of newspapers are premature according to Peter Christopher, Editor in Chief of Fairfax Community Newspapers in New South Wales.

Speaking at the recent Local Government Public Relations Association Conference in Sydney, Christopher put up a spirited defence of the role community newspapers play in Australia.

He argued that as economies become more globalised, communities are becoming “hyper-local”. Increasingly Australians are reaching out through community newspapers, events and even hyper- local blogs to connect with and understand the immediate world around us.

So the nature of news has not changed: we still want information on local events and issues. But the way that news is being delivered is certainly changing and the pace of distributing news has moved newspapers from marathon to sprint mode. This means the demand for content is insatiable and as Christopher colourfully put it, “the beast needs feeding”.

The practice for Australian newspapers to integrate print and on-line and use text, video and photography to cover important issues, is now firmly established. We are noticing this more and more and in one recent project we spent more time with on-line editors from major newspapers than with journalists working on print stories.

The pace of delivery and the demand for newspapers to have multi-media platforms will continue to grow. According to the 2008 edition of the Newsroom Barometer, an annual survey of more than 700 editors and senior news executives from 120 countries:

  • 86% believe integrated print and online newsrooms will become the norm

  • 83% believe journalists will be expected to be able to produce content for all media within five years

  • 44% believe on-line will be the most common platform for reading news in the future, compared with 41% last year. 31% cited print (down from 35% last year), 12% mobile and 7% e-paper

  • 35% said training journalists in new media was the number one priority for investing in editorial quality

The implication for communicators is clear.

The journalist's job is getting tougher and that means ours will too. To maximize the chances of getting our issues and causes published, we must be ready to package up and present journalists with video, stills images and audio opportunities before they even ask.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Word Of Mouth Marketing: Slow to Catch on in Australia

Everyone wants people talking positively about their product, program, issue or cause.

Yet amazingly few Australian organisations deliberately set out to include word of mouth marketing in their communications mix.

That’s surprising. Because word of mouth – receiving information from a trusted source – is the strongest form of marketing. We are more inclined to listen to family, friends or workmates when they urge us to do something, rather than be influenced by glossy brochures, slick advertising or sophisticated sales techniques.

Given the cynicism surrounding mass media and high powered advertising, there is renewed interest in word of mouth marketing which, let’s face it, has been around since caveman days.

We are now seeing an upsurge of interest in the US with the notable example being the work of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. But there does not seem to be as much buzz on word of mouth in Australia – apart from discussions on social media which too often focus on technology and forget the people using it. A 2005 PRIA article by Jonathan Carson lamented this situation and frankly I don't see much has changed since then.

Which is a shame because the effectiveness of a successful word of mouth marketing program lies in its simplicity. Word of mouth works when there are three fundamental elements present:

  • A good product or service. People will only pass on information about a product or service to others if they have confidence in it. Word of mouth will reward good behaviour with referrals but will always punish poor performance.

  • People who can help spread your word. Sometimes called key influencers, connectors or champions, these are people who will share your information with others in their networks - if they are convinced of the integrity of your offer. Key steps in this type of marketing are identifying these key influencers, getting them on board, giving them pass on tools that make it easy for them to spread your information and then acknowledging their efforts when they help your cause.

  • Simple information. Word of mouth needs simple but memorable stories to succeed in conversation networks. Complex or bureaucratic language may look good on paper but it’s unlikely to work when people are sharing information face to face.

Word of mouth marketing is credible, cheap and fast which makes it an attractive option for big and small organisations. But marketers and others need to plan for it rather than just wishing for it.