content marketing

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. 

How to Write Op-Eds That Change the Conversation

A well-placed op-ed can help you call attention to an important issue or change minds about a controversial topic.

How to Write Op-Eds Whitepaper

The explosive op-ed written by a senior member of the Trump administration that was published this week in The New York Times is an extreme example.

But op-eds can also be incredibly useful for nonprofits and companies that are looking to inspire action in local and national markets.

Op-eds explained

Unlike reported news stories, op-eds are opinion pieces written by those who aren’t on the staff of a newspaper, magazine or website. They offer outside voices the opportunity to express opinions and share ideas in their own words.

Traditionally, they appear opposite the editorial page (hence the name, op-ed), which is where the newspaper’s editorial board expresses its opinion on important issues.

Why op-eds matter

While newspapers don’t quite carry the same influence they once did, op-eds can nonetheless be valuable tools for those looking to raise awareness about a problem or issue.

In fact, one could argue that op-eds have more influence than ever.

That’s because a published op-ed not only appears in the newspaper, it also appears online, which gives you the opportunity to point to it on your own site, in blog posts, and through social media.

But, as is the case with pitching stories, it’s a challenge to get news outlets to run your opinion piece.

Newspapers and other outlets only have the resources and space to run a limited number of op-eds. As result, competition for these pieces can be fierce.

How can you get your opinion published?

We've helped a number of organizations and individuals write and place high-impact op-eds -- and we've learned a few tricks along the way to maximize our odds of getting these pieces published.

Download this free e-book to learn our 5-step process for writing and placing op-eds that change minds and inspire action.

Crack the Code to Effective Writing: 5 Tips for Creating Nut Graphs

 Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Svetlana P .

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Svetlana P.

When it’s time to sit down and start writing, some writers begin by creating an outline or by trying to craft a compelling opening.

I start with the nut graph.

If you were trained as a journalist or have ever worked in a newsroom, you're probably already familiar with the term nut graph, which refers to the paragraph in a news story that tells readers why they are reading the story.

Nut graphs often appear early in the story -- typically in the second or third paragraph -- and set the context for what follows. They can be full paragraphs, short sentences, or something in between. But no matter the length, a good nut graph offers a clear roadmap to what makes the story important.

I’ve found that a strong nut graph isn’t just useful for writing news stories. It’s an element that paves the way for all effective writing. If you’re writing a white paper, case study, news release, blog post, video script, or e-mail marketing message, a nut graph is the key that unlocks your entire narrative.

If you can quickly and concisely identify why your piece is important, you stand a better chance of convincing the reader why it matters.

This is true whether you’re trying to pitch a story to a reporter, inspire a reader to make a donation to your nonprofit, or convince a potential customer to buy your product.

Whatever you’re writing, it’s important to explain -- very clearly and prominently -- why the piece is important.

But how do you figure that out?

Here are the five questions you should ask yourself before you write that will help you identify and frame your nut graph:

What’s different?

The fact that you are announcing a new CEO isn't different. Every organization hires a new leader from time to time.

But the person you are hiring usually brings something different to the table. Perhaps she is the first woman to ever lead an arts organization in your city, or the first graduate of your program to lead it.

If you can identify something different that might help your announcement stand out, your nut graph becomes fairly easy. Here's an example:

"Jones, who is the organization's 17th director, becomes the first woman to lead a major arts organization in Gotham City."

Is this part of a larger trend?

Let's say you are having a hard time identifying what's different. In that case, maybe you can focus on how it connects to a larger trend.

By spotting and calling out a trend in your nut graph, you're helping readers understand how your piece fits into a larger narrative or provides insight into something that’s happening around them.

Example: "The new program is part of a growing trend among nonprofits: partnering with local community foundations to track and measure a city's progress toward improving adult literacy rates. Similar programs in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh are already showing great promise in addressing this important issue."

What’s the impact?

If you can identify how your subject will have an impact on the community it serves or a problem you're trying to solve, you have a ready-made news hook (and a nut graph that almost writes itself).

Example: "With this grant from Vandelay Industries, the Kramer Center will be able to provide housing assistance to 300 families that otherwise would not be able to afford rents in the neighborhood.”

Is it timely?

Perhaps you are writing about a topic that helps address an issue that is particularly timely or connects to a larger event in the news. Identifying a connection to something current can help give you the hook you need for your nut graph.

Example: "At a time when many local workers have lost their jobs due to the recent recession, this new program offers career training and placement services that are otherwise difficult to afford."

Can someone learn from it?

All of us are looking for information that can help us navigate our day to day lives. If your piece can offer practical advice that can help people be more effective in their jobs, with their finances, or with their relationships, it’s helpful to spotlight this information up front.

Example: "The new partnership is the result of months of deliberate planning and negotiations and provides a roadmap for other organizations that are looking to manage their costs responsibly."

What’s your best example of a nut graph? Share it in the comments below and we’ll spotlight the best nut graphs in a future edition of our newsletter.