Newsletter

Knock it out in November: Make Your Messages Matter in a Noisy Month

 Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

We’re just one days away from a mid-term election that’s drawing Presidential-cycle like attention in many parts of the country.

With that in mind, the next week or so is going to be pretty noisy, so plan your media outreach and messaging accordingly. 

Here's our quick guide to navigating the month ahead.
 

A Takeaway from the Campaign Trail
Election Day will reveal who will control the House and Senate. But its results will also help communicators get insights into who won the messaging war.

We’ve been providing communications support for a highly-watched House race and have already learned some timely lessons from this year's race.  I’ll be doing a more in-depth blog with some key takeaways after the votes are counted, but for now here’s a nugget that has relevance to all communicators trying to engage their audience:

Pitch the story, not the policy: Never underestimate the power of a compelling personal story. We found a highly effective approach to addressing a policy issue is to find ways to frame it with an authentic story. For instance, the candidate we’re working with lost his father at a very young age. His mother who had never worked outside her home, had to re-invent herself to provide for her three kids. Fortunately, Social Security offered a bridge that allowed her to keep her home and her family together. When told in this context, the candidate’s support for protecting Social Security takes on real, authentic meaning—and sticks with those who heard the story. 


Here are some other trends to watch as we move deeper into November:

Annual Reports: The Clock is Ticking
We’re a month into the fourth quarter – with the holiday season just a few short weeks away. If you’re involved with creating your organization's annual report, now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a smooth process and a stellar product. Here’s some recent advice about why now is the time to get to work

The Hard Sell is Getting Harder
A new study on brand supports the pressing need for organizations identify and promote their purpose rather than trying to force-feed their messages to consumers.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study encouraged brands to connect their purpose with a relevant moment in culture as well as to confront a controversial issue that has direct impact on stakeholders and customers.

The study found that 64% of consumers identify as belief-driven buyers—a 13% jump from last year. Further, 84% of respondents said they noticed a brand communication when it engaged their attention compared to 16% who noticed it when it interrupted their attention. 

While these findings were focused on businesses, they are also relevant  nonprofits, particularly as they aim to capture their audiences attention ahead of Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27. 

Giving Tuesday and Small Business Saturday
Speaking of Giving Tuesday, November offers nonprofits a great hook for telling their stories in the media — and for connecting with their supporters. The same is true for small businesses with Small Business Saturday.

Ideally, you’ve already mapped out your communications and media strategy for these events.

But if you haven’t, it’s not too late.

Our team is happy to help you build a lightweight campaign this month — with an eye for how you can build relationships that will have lasting value in 2019 and beyond.

Contact me to learn more!

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged. 

Know Your Audience: A 6-Step Plan to Creating Personas

 Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by  ephidryn .

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by ephidryn.

A successful message isn’t about the message’s creator. It’s about the person who is reading, watching, or hearing it. 

What does she value? What is she hoping to achieve? What motivates her? What will turn her off? What will spark her to take action?

These are crucial questions — and they are important whether you’re composing an email, shooting a video, putting together an annual report, or creating something else.

Yet in a world where many of us are busy trying to keep up with our crowded editorial calendars, it’s often difficult to take a step back and think about the individuals who are on the receiving end of our messages. As a result, chances are pretty good you’re missing the mark with at least some of your target audiences.

Now imagine if your communications team truly understood the intended audience for every one of its messages.

Your open rates would be higher. Your social media content would get shared more regularly. Your revenues and brand awareness would soar.

There’s one especially effective tool for helping you achieve this state of communications nirvana: personas

Personas are composite profiles of your key audience segments that help your team identify, understand, and talk to these key audiences.

When created and deployed properly, audience personas can help time-strapped communicators understand and connect with their key audiences. Personas help put a face on the people you’re trying to get to take action — and they offer true insights into what your target audiences care about most.

Scott and I have come up with what we have found to be a great system for creating personas through working with groups like the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Wolters Kluwer.

Here are 6 lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Identify your goals

Before you define and learn about your key audiences, it helps to understand your priorities. Are you looking to advocate for an outcome, raise more money, launch a new product or service? By articulating two to three key organizational goals, you can begin to identify your highest-value audiences and work backward from there. 

2. Map your audiences to your goals

Once you define your priorities, identify which audiences you most need to reach in order to achieve these priorities. Perhaps you need to find more people who are similar to your existing donor or customer base—or you need to target an entirely new audience to achieve your goals.

3. Gather the relevant data

The most useful personas blend art and science. The science, in this case, is data. Review your organization’s CRM, web analytics, donor surveys, and any other key data about your current audience to begin to better understand who they are and what they care about. When possible, supplement these data with information from external sources to paint a more vivid picture.

4. Put a face to the numbers

Data is crucial, but so are insights from real people. We recommend interviewing people who are in your target audiences to gain insights that go beyond the numbers — and to reach outside of your organization to talk to folks who aren’t familiar with you. These interviews will help you learn more about what they value, what they think about your organization, and what it will take to gain the attention of others like them.

5. Make them engaging and accessible

Personas are designed to be easy to understand, so try to avoid word-heavy narratives. Use photos, quotes, and breakouts to give them color and help your team feel connected to them. And present them in accessible formats, such as posters that can be tacked up in office cubicles or flip books. Here’s an example of a package of personas we helped create for Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

6. Embed them in your culture

Train everyone in your organization on how to use the personas in their marketing and communications efforts. Find ways to incorporate your personas into your planning process for events, new campaigns, and other activities that involve interacting with your key audiences.

The Takeaway?

Creating personas takes some work, but when done well, that investment is more than paid for by the added clients, donors, customers, and champions who come your way when you know how to speak their language.

Want to learn more about how personas can help your team? Drop me a line (peter@turn-two.co) and we can chat more.

Preparation Pays: How to Write a Media Briefing

 Flickr Creative Commons Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you work in media relations, one of your biggest fears involves watching the leader of your organization get flustered by a reporter or stumble in front of a TV camera.

But while even the most experienced interview subject gets tripped up by a tough question from time to time, you can avoid most media missteps by making sure your subject is fully prepared.

Every time a subject is speaking with the media, that person should be equipped with a clear sense of what they should say.

That's why whenever we schedule interviews for our clients, we create a briefing memo.

This document gives the interview subject an opportunity to prepare for the interview ahead of time -- and provides a sense of comfort.

Our briefing memos follow a common format, which makes it easy for our team to generate them quickly (which is especially useful when you're preparing for an interview that is being conducted on a short deadline).

Here's what our memos include:

An Introduction

Each memo starts with sentence or two that provides high-level information about the media opportunity -- including the name of the reporter(s), the media outlet he or she represents, and why the opportunity is important.

Timeline and Location

It's helpful to include the most vital information near the top of your memo for quick reference.

Our memos always include the location of the interview (including the street address and any important directions). If your interview subject is meeting with a reporter in his or her newsroom, make sure you not only provide the address of the news outlet, but you provide information about what to do when the subject arrives.

We also include a detailed timeline, including when to leave for the meeting, who is accompanying the subject to the meeting, and how to contact both the reporter and anyone from your team who might be joining.

For phone interviews, we include information about who is calling who, the expected duration of the call, and whether it will be recorded.

Interview Format

Next, we detail the format for the interview -- spelling out whether it will be one-on-one or with a group or editorial board.

We also detail the objective of the interview. In some cases, the objective might be to help land a feature story, or to provide opinion or context for a story the reporter is already working on. In other cases, it might be to meet with the editorial board of a newspaper to persuade the paper to take a stand on an important issue.

Here's an excerpt from a recent briefing memo we put together for an expert source who was meeting with a reporter at The Wall Street Journal: "Unless otherwise agreed, this meeting will be considered on the record, but will be informational in nature. Our expectation is that it will position you as a key source and that it will spawn future opportunities for coverage."

Key Messages

Once we've established the ground rules and the format, we provide 2-4 key messages for the interview subject. These messages are usually quite specific and correlate to a set of talking points.

If you're looking to promote a new program or raise awareness about a key issue, this is where you can provide some focused advice to your subject on what he or she should be focusing on -- and how to direct the conversation.

Background on the reporter/outlet

It always helps the interview subject to have as much information as possible about the reporter(s) involved in the interview.

We generate short bios of the reporters, along with links to some of their recent stories so the subject can get a sense of who they are talking to and how they typically approach their work.

When possible, we include a photo to put a face on the reporter (which is especially helpful when you're meeting for the first time in public).

This background information usually helps put the subject at ease (and in some cases helps prepare them for tough questions).

Potential Questions

We also aim to provide a list of questions/topics that we expect the reporter to focus on during the interview.

Often, we try to gain as much information as we can from the reporter ahead of time to get a sense of what he or she is interested in covering and supplement what we learn by reading their recent coverage of similar topics and, when appropriate, information from a pitch that we've developed on the topic.

While we have a general format for our briefings, you can develop a format that works best for your team. The most important thing, though, is to make sure you do everything you can to prepare your spokespeople for every interview.

This will help ensure you're conveying the right message -- and that you're ready for tough questions when they come.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that this is just one way to set up a briefing memo.

You might choose a different format, based on the needs and preferences of the people you work with.

But it's important to make sure you're taking steps to fully prepare your subjects ahead of time.

A little preparation now will save you a lot of headaches later!