Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Assumption Effect - Never Assume Anything

This morning my wife and I had an interesting conversation.

We were half way through it when we both realised that we were each talking about a completely different issue. No wonder the conversation was not going very far.

In recent months I have been involved with two organisations where the same thing has happened. Senior managers assumed the people they wanted to reach knew what they were talking about. In both cases the intended audiences knew little if anything about the subject.

Both organisations exhibited self referential communications: a symptom which runs along the lines of I know what I mean therefore everyone else must know what I mean.

As communicators it is very easy assume because we have invested time and effort in producing key messages, designing brochures, distributing media releases etc, that people - apart from us - know what we are on about.

There must be some high sounding term in the science of communications to describe this effect. I'm not sure what it is so I simply describe it as the assumption effect and it has probably been the root cause of countless failed PR and marketing campaigns.

Never assume the people you want to reach know what you are talking about until they demonstrate that knowledge. That sounds simple but I wonder how many times your personal or organisational communications have been de-railed by making false assumptions at the outset.

That's why it always pay to market research your audiences, and if the data or observation are not there, never assume they either know or care about what you want to communicate.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Local Government and Social Media

Today I presented at the Local Government Web Network Conference in Sydney on using new digital media platforms in government communications.

Here are some links you might find interesting:

If you are having troubling convincing your elected council officials to try social media, ask them to listen to this podcast of Donna Papacosta interviewing Rob Burton, the 63 year old Mayor of the Canadian city of Oakville.

In this interview Mayor Rob discusses using Twitter, blogs and Facebook to communicate his municipal duties. This is well worth a listen.

Cheers and good luck to all my colleagues in Local Government.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fundamentals for Not Profit Communications

We just finished the 2009 season for our free workshops for not for profit organisations.

Now in its sixth year these sessions offer pro bono marketing advice to volunteers groups, charities and not for profits.

To finish up the 2009 program we asked colleagues in our international PR networks to name the top ten things not for profit organisations must get right when they set out to communicate to their communities.

We got more than ten so here's the list.

Craft a message that resonates and connects. Before embarking on a PR campaign, craft your message. Who you are and who do you help? Do your services overlap with other groups? How is your organization unique and what makes it stand out? People want to know before investing what area of the community you serve. Is it pets, homeless people, the elderly, disabled children, etc? They also want to know that the majority of funds go to the intended programs and recipients.

Find out how to connect emotionally with your target audience. Put a face on the population you serve and tell their story. Describe their situation and how your services have helped them. If you must present a bleak picture be sure to provide a solution. People want to hear positive outcomes to things that affect them and their community so how do your services improve the community's quality of life.

Make your message as personal as possible to the audience you are trying to reach. And the information you are giving them has to be kept simple on the front end. People aren't going to read, or listen to a lot at the outset. Once you get their interest then you can deliver more content. So you have to really target your audience carefully. Tossing out lots of content broadly hoping to catch a few is wasteful in this economy.

Demonstrate the need, show you have a solution and then share your successes.

Listen before you communicate. The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a very good reason.

The basic motivation factor of "putting something back in to the local community" is a good message. It leads to a sense of achievement and well being for volunteers and a sense of philanthropy for donors. Also promise donors publicity because people like to be seen to be doing good things.

Communications must empathise transparency and accountability. Ensure you report on how the funds you raised are being used and that what you claimed you would do, you actually did.

A lot of not for profits want to start with the tactics first and forget to spend a few minutes asking the questions to make their efforts smarter. So before you communicate, ask what is the purpose of my communications? What is the primary message I want to convey? Who is it designed to reach? What do I want people to do after they hear what I have to say? How will I know I have been successful?

Have I got my logos, images, taglines and spokespersons ready to roll before I start talking?

Understand the media likes conflict. Where there is no conflict or opposing views there is no story. So find a local hero and go for a feature story rather than a news story.

What is your value to the community at large? How many people are using your services, how many are unable to get these services? Where would those folks get services if your organization didn't exist? What would happen to them? And what is your impact on the general community?

Take advantage of third party endorsements in the form of testimonials from clients, favorable media placements, or even simply through the reputations of the people who serve on your board or who volunteer. But please choose them wisely. The best part of this strategy - it's virtually free.

Show the value you provide - the value of your research, the fact you employ real people at all levels, spend your money in the local economy and that you are open to people asking questions and seeing what we do. Wrap those points up in good story telling and tell a story about people who do things. Storytelling is becoming a lost art but you can't lose if you can get a handle on it.

... and my very special thanks to our contributors - Chips Henriss, Kristie Aylett, Karen Miller, Tim Entwisle, Janet Bosserman, Jeff Botti, Mike Spear, Rosanne Gain and Susanne Dupes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Rise and Rise of Twitter

In recent days two reports have been released on Twitter. Both outline why and how organisations can use Twitter to reach the people they need to talk to. Both are simply written and certainly worth a read. Together they reflect the rise and rise of social media in today's communications mix.

Not For Profits Face Tough Marketing Challenges

In July 2009 the Centre for Social Impact, the Fundraising Institute of Australia and PricewaterhouseCooper released Managing in an Uncertain Economy. This 24 page report outlines how Australian not for profits are handling the downturned economy.

It concludes that:

  • Incomes of not for profits are declining but government funding is stable.
  • Incomes are reducing at the same time as costs are rising.
  • 30% of not for profits have taken measures to reduce costs and more plan to do so in the next 12 months.
  • Larger organisations are faring better. Probably because they have more reserves, are better known and so far they have been more proactive in introducing cost saving measures.

The report states that marketing and raising brand awareness will be priority items on the to do lists of many charities and volunteer groups as they head into 2010.
  • Many will put more emphasis on winning government funding so government relations tools and tactics will increasingly feature in their marketing mix.
  • About a third of organisations plan to upgrade their websites and 35% are planning to improve communications with stakeholders.
  • Many are considering collaboration or partnerships with others but very few would consider a merger.
  • There will be a greater call for volunteers as one way to meet increased demand for services as staffing levels either remain static or drop.

The PR and marketing implications from this study are stark.

In the coming year not for profits need to develop and implement simple, cost effective marketing efforts that deliver both dollars and volunteers. That's if they
intend to continue to offer the same level of services their communities have come to expect ... and keep the doors open and the lights on.