Brand and Strategy

Make the Most of December: 5 Holiday Hacks for Communicators

Flickr Creative Commons photo

Flickr Creative Commons photo

We’re heading into the home stretch. 

Black Friday is behind us, Giving Tuesday is upon us, and the ever-busy month of December awaits.

For communicators, December offers some unique opportunities to get your message out and the chance to lay the groundwork for a strong start in 2019. 

Let’s dive in with some ways to make the most of the last month of 2018. 

Wrap the year up right 
The old newsroom standard—the year-in-review story—can be your friend in December. It’s usually a light lift to look back through the highlights from the past year and piece them together for a year-in-review story or series of blog posts.  For internal communicators, it’s a great way to reinforce key messages, highlight successes, and set a tone for the coming year. For nonprofits, a year in review reminds donors and volunteers of the great work you did in the previous year and provides a platform to say thank you to your biggest boosters. 

Procrastinate no more
The year is winding down and that long-awaited, much-talked-about website refresh is still stuck in neutral. We get it, website refreshes are like the Land of Misfit Toys of the communications world. They never seem to get the attention they need with other priorities always seeming to squeeze them out. December is good month to break the cycle by crafting an action plan to get it done. Commit to lining up the resources you need and create a timeline to get that stale website refreshed and relaunched in the first quarter of 2019. 

Tug some heart strings
News reporters can’t resist is a feel-good holiday story. If your organization has a heartwarming success story – particularly one with a timely Christmas or holiday hook— start pitching. Such stories are easy to find at many nonprofits. For businesses, maybe you can repurpose an internal story about an employee whose making a real difference in the community could be pitched to an external news outlet. Whether it’s a story focuses on client you helped or an employee making a difference, make sure before you pitch that they are willing to participate and know the story’s angle. It’s also a good idea to prep them for the interview so they can think about how much of their story they’re comfortable sharing.

Be resolute
According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. That means the odds are against those of us who are using the new year to set new goals. To beat those odds, take specific actions now that will make it easier to stick to your resolutions once the new year begins. That could be as simple as scheduling meetings now that will keep you on track through the first half of the year, or  signing up for a conference or webinar that focuses on a skill you want to strengthen. Last week, for example, we talked about the importance of getting an early jump on your annual report. Establishing a firm timeline now and lining up the resources you need will help keep the project on track. 

Say thanks
I just read an article about how Chik-fil-A is killing its competition with kindness. More specifically, the fact that their employees are trained to say please and thank you is reportedly having a big impact on their bottom line. Makes sense to me. A simple thank you to customers, volunteers, donors, employees, friendly reporters…just about anyone goes a long way. 

And finally ...

Peter and I would like to say thank you to our great clients and the many friends and supporters of Turn Two Communications. We couldn’t do it without you! 

We’re looking forward to a great 2019 – which will feature our refreshed website … we promise! 

The 8-Second Key to Engage Gen Z

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

Can you spare eight seconds?

That’s a question that communicators and marketers of all stripes should be asking themselves these days. 

If you’re still with me (after all, my time is up), I’ll explain. 

So eight seconds is the estimated attention span of Generation Z -- those people born after 1997.

Experts have summed up Gen Z’s approach to processing information as ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget.’ Spend any time with Gen Zer’s ripping through their smartphones, and that description likely resonates. 

And it’s not surprising. Gen Zers have lived their entire lives awash in a flood of information and messaging. In many ways, ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget’ represents the only logical way to process information and navigate through a day. 

Yet what does it mean for someone hoping to capture a bit more than eight seconds of their time?

In my view, the key is to find a way to flip ‘forget’ to ‘remember.’ The best way to achieve that: Tell a compelling story. 

“This generation loves story,” Marcie Merriman, executive director, cultural relevancy and brand strategy, Ernst & Young, told me during an interview last year. “What’s the history behind it? Why is it relevant? What does it mean to me?”

It makes sense. Stories are a way to differentiate your content from all that other information that Gen Z quickly forgets. Even better, a good story works for people of any generation.  

So whatever your mission, look for the story—something that provide context and meaning. 

Then find the best way – and medium – to tell it. 

But make sure you lead with a strong hook. You have eight seconds to make the sale.

Communicate With Purpose: Understanding the Power of 'Why'

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Organizations are often very good at talking about what they do.

But the groups that often have the greatest success connecting with donors, motivating activists, or getting media attention do not spend much time talking about their programs and services.

Instead, they are adept at articulating why they do what they do.

Nonprofits, for example, aren't just about providing meals or medical care or clean water. They are laser focused on showing people how their work can make a real and lasting difference -- and what they ultimately hope to accomplish.

Businesses, meanwhile, aren't just about selling products or services. The most successful companies are able to translate why those products and services matter -- and how they are improving the world.

If you're struggling to find your voice or having a hard time connecting with potential supporters or customers, it's important to take some time to think clearly about why you exist -- and then commit to ensuring that you articulate that 'why'.

The shift can be a game changer because while your ‘what’ may be interesting and informative, it’s your ‘why’ that can be truly inspirational – and spark people to action.

The Search for Purpose

There's a reason many organizations struggle to make this shift and default to talking about what they do.

It boils down to this:

What is easy. Why is hard.


It's easy, for instance, for the charity that provides meals to talk about how many meals it serves and the need to make sure its shelves are stocked with cans of vegetables and boxes of pasta.

But if you're looking to move people in a deeper way and advance your cause to achieve more meaningful results, it's important to move beyond just talking about the what (the cans and boxes) and being able to articulate the why -- purpose behind what you do.

Why are you working to feed people?

What is the larger impact of your work?

These questions require a deeper level of thought than the more simple question of "what do you do?". They prompt you to consider what motivates your staff, your donors and supporters. And, ultimately, these questions demand you get to the core of why your organization exists in the first place – and whether your collective actions align with your true purpose.

By taking the time to answer these questions, however, your organization can gain a clearer sense of its purpose. In turn, you have a much better chance to inspire people to take action on your behalf, change minds, and get attention for your work.

Weave Purpose Into Everything You Do

For the hypothetical hunger charity described above, digging deep to find out why you're providing those meals can lead to some inspiring discoveries.

For instance, it discovers that families that have access to regular, nutritious food are healthier, that their children are more likely to succeed in school, and that our society and economy is ultimately much stronger.

Helping families get good food helps improve our schools, our economy, and our society.

That's purpose!

But it's not just enough to know and understand that purpose.

You also have to know how to articulate that purpose.

Every day.

In every piece of written communications. In every fundraising conversation. In every board meeting.

It has to be front and center on your website, show up in every meaningful conversation on Facebook, and be a part of every pitch you make to the media.

Doing this requires discipline from your leadership and your communications team. It requires training your board and your staff. And it requires consistency.

But if you're wondering why some organizations are getting more media coverage, more donors or customers, and more support than yours, it's probably because they've taken the time to define their purpose -- and they have the discipline to make sure that purpose is embedded in everything they say and do.

6 Reasons to Take the Problem Solver Approach to a PR Challenge

Back in my newspaper reporting days, I had a memorable assignment on a charter boat that specialized in taking business clients fishing on Lake Erie.

The voyage started as one of those classic can’t-catch-a-break Charlie Brown days. Before we even got off the dock, the boat had a minor mechanical problem that delayed departure. Once on the water, the sonar fish finder was acting up and a passing boat kicked up a stomach-churning wake. When we finally did enter some prime walleye waters, the fishing lines promptly got tangled.

The guy who was something of a first mate and charged with taking care of the clients was tripping all over himself trying to explain away all the difficulties—and how this was most certainly a rare exception to how things went on the water.

Then the captain, a retired business executive, cut him short and rolled out this memorable gem.

“You’re always going to have problems,” he said with absolute calm. “It’s how you deal with those problems that makes all the difference.”

The first mate, silent, nodded in eager agreement.

The mood on the boat immediately lifted as captain and crew went about the business of systematically untangling their problems. We landed some pretty nice fish that day. And they got largely positive press in the local paper. 

The captain’s words come back to me often when I see organizations dealing with various PR challenges and crises. And those words remind me of the power of positioning your leaders as problem solvers in the face of adversity or criticism.

Typically, when the proverbial boat starts taking on water, organizations either go the no-comment route or take the perceived high road and issue a carefully crafted statement with hopes the problem fades away.

Option 1 is almost always a bad call. No comment screams cover-up or cluelessness, never an impression you want to leave with the public. Beyond that, it rarely solves your problem. Often it exacerbates it.

Option 2 can have its place, particularly when it comes to challenging issues that have legal implications or are still unfolding. Yet I’d argue this approach is overused, and often becomes a crutch, creating a false sense that the issue has been adequately addressed. 

A third, and I think better path to deal with many PR issues, is to take the problem-solver approach. Specifically, you position your leadership as problem solvers and then it is through that lens that you craft your messaging and lay out your plan for dealing with the issue at hand.

Here are six reasons this approach often offers a better path.

·      It unfreezes thinking. Leaders who are feeling cornered are much more likely to fall back on their instinct to hunker down in no-comment mode. By framing the challenge in the problem-solver approach, you have a better chance to shift the conversation to brainstorming and assessing viable alternatives to tackling the problem—and how those options could be positioned in messaging.  The added benefit is that beyond lip service, you can actually help develop a legitimate action plan to deal with the issues.

·      It helps you acknowledge and address the problem head-on. You can’t highlight how you are going to solve a problem if you haven’t clearly defined it. Turning the focus toward how the problem can be addressed prods your leadership toward all-important transparency. Maybe all of the details can’t be revealed, but there is more wiggle room to acknowledge the challenge when you know it will be framed within an action-oriented solution.

·      It helps you quickly pivot to solutions: Which headline would you prefer: “Acme hammered by customer complaints” or “Acme rolls out three-point plan to tackle customer complaints”? Thought so. The problem-solver approach naturally spins the story forward, and puts the focus on the solution.  If you act fast enough, sometimes you can even head off that initial bad headline avoid being put in damage-control mode.

·      It buys you goodwill:  People by and large are pretty forgiving, particularly when they believe an individual or organization is trying to be forthright, transparent, and focused on fixing problems. If nothing else, you’re likely to get at least some props for taking the high road and not hiding behind “no comment.” As a former reporter, I can tell you any attempt at transparency also endears you to the press and helps strengthen those key relationships.

·      It positions your leaders as can-do problem solvers. Of course, the most valuable and lasting benefit of this approach is that it positions your leadership as clear-eyed people of action. They become the captain of the boat, instead of the fretting first mate.  It’s likely that long after the buzz of the latest PR issue has died down, what will be remembered is the sense that yours is an organization that deals with issues in a transparent and action-oriented way. What more could you ask for?

·      It boosts your credibility as a strategic advisor. Sure, this approach can carry some level of risk and may not fit every situation. Yet for instances where it makes sense, there’s a pretty good chance your leadership will start seeing you in a whole new light. You become more than the PR flack that puts together a prepared statement, and more of a trusted advisor who is a steady hand to help navigate rough waters.

Here’s the thing to remember: you’re always going to have problems. It’s how you deal with those problems that makes all the difference.