3 Simple Solutions to Maximize Your Communications Budget

Posted on Oct 30, 2014 | 0 comments

It’s that time again—when everyone’s scrambling to get their budgets finalized and submitted for the year ahead. It is stressful when you think of having to anticipate all of your communication needs for a full year. There’s always the possibility that a catchall category like “crisis communications” might be used for a need you didn’t anticipate, but corporate budgets can be notoriously unforgiving. They can also be the source of heated debate when it comes to divvying up the limited pool of resources. Before you get too stressed about mapping out next year’s needs and scheming up ways to earmark secret funds for your group, we thought we’d share some quick tips to help you make the most of your communications budget. Sometimes the smallest tweaks can help you make the most of your money. Here are three simple solutions to help you stretch your communications dollars and avoid breaking the bank. Go Evergreen. With a little extra expense on the front-end we’re helping clients reduce the back-end costs for delivering employee meetings by writing, designing and producing animated video presentations. Any HR Manager or benefits consultant will tell you – after about the fourth or fifth time delivering the same presentation your ability to deliver the same quality and depth of information begins to waver. By leveraging presentations we’ve already created into animated videos with professional voice-over we enable our clients to reach more employees, with the same consistent messaging, but with LESS travel! For clients with multiple locations across the country (and in some cases, around the globe), the translation of meeting materials into video presentations provides major cost savings. Go Mobile One of the simplest changes we help our clients make is the transition to lower-cost mobile solutions. Whether it’s the delivery of a high-impact email in place of a postcard, or a mobile version of the old benefits wallet card, clients who go mobile are saving big bucks on printing and shipping these days. Go Smaller It may take some effort to find a smaller agency with the right talent and skills to suit your needs but the numbers are on your side. Big agency billing rates can top out anywhere between $450 and $900 per hour. What if you worked with an agency who billed at a rate of one-third or LESS than the big consulting firms? And what if those agencies housed top talent with just as much experience or more? They’re out there. (HINT: Lab Monkey Communications is one of them). As you put the finishing touches on your budget for next year, remember that it’s not always the big dollar project that makes the biggest impact. Smaller tweaks can be just as effective, easier to implement, and easier to get approved. Whether you’re planning for next year or looking for ways to spend that last little bit of money from this year’s budget, consider the advantages of going evergreen, going mobile, and going smaller. Share...

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Three Tips for Moving BEYOND the ACA Conversation with Employees

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 | 0 comments

The words “Affordable Care Act” and “Obamacare” still manage to spark passionate debate at the dinner table. People are quick to leap on their soapboxes and spout personal horror stories about that “dreadful enrollment site,” the rolling enrollment period fiasco of 2014, and the myriad other ways the law is hitting home for them. The initial rollout and the on-again-off-again “deadlines” kept so many of us guessing our way through open enrollment season last year. It was enough to make you wish you’d never heard the words “health care reform” at all. The Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) took a chance this week by dedicating the entire hour of their monthly luncheon to the discussion of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) impact on benefits communications. Judging by the packed room, most of us are indeed ready to deal with the issue and speak those three letters (ACA) in public again. I had the pleasure of moderating an interactive discussion between IABC members and our panel of experts, which included Elizabeth Byerly of Towers Watson and Kerry Parker of Kaiser Permanente. Though the wounds of last year’s enrollment season still feel fresh, we find ourselves once more in the war room mapping out communications strategies for the year ahead. In the spirit of sparing our colleagues and clients any undue stress, I thought I’d quickly share three key tips and strategies that came out of the day’s interactive session.   1) Stop bringing up the $%&#@$ Affordable Care Act all the time! Face it. We’re well into the post-ACA era. It is our new normal. Your employees GET IT by now – things are changing because of the Affordable Care Act. You may have been forced into some difficult decisions by the ACA but you can’t keep laying blame with the law for every unpopular change you have to communicate. Your employees don’t want you to join them in the ranks of the frustrated and confused, they want you to LEAD them to better solutions and a greater understanding of how to deal with this new reality. You don’t serve them by hiding behind the ACA as an excuse for why things are “just so bad and awful now.” Effective leaders are embracing the realities brought about by the ACA and rolling them into the broader context of their overall business strategy so that employees understand what’s expected of them in response to the changes ahead. Focus more on your Employee Value Proposition and less on the ACA as you educate employees about changes in your benefits structure. Sure there will be times when the ACA comes up naturally, but it’s not a shield or a scapegoat that’s going to resonate with your employees or alleviate your pain-points in any meaningful way.   2) Get in your employees’ faces—they want you to! Prior to the open discussion at the IABC event, we polled the audience on a number of questions. One of the most telling poll questions asked the audience to rank six communications channels in order of preference when it comes to receiving benefits communications. The results were even across the board—with each of the six options pulling in an average of 16 -18%. This simply underscores what we already know about the demand to communicate via as many distribution channels as possible. In our poll, no single communication outlet drowned out another – there was hardly a 2% difference among them. However, there is a right time and place behind every touchpoint. Elizabeth Byerly, of Towers Watson, went on to elaborate that last year employees responded overwhelmingly in favor of in-person meetings when faced with complex changes in their benefits plans. After employees have had a chance to voice their specific questions and...

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The 4 Fundamental Principles of Fabulous FAQ’s

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 | 0 comments

  Is it just us or does it seem like everyone has a few extra questions about their healthcare plans this year? We’re in the early stages of drafting open enrollment communications for our clients and we’re beginning to notice a few trends. One, in particular, is taking the lead as the number one problem for 2013. It’s the epic saga you’re trying to call a FAQ Flyer. And it’s not really doing anyone any favors. We get that you’re anxious to provide some sort of answers to employees this year. We get that a lot is changing as you onboard more employees, move towards consumer driven health plans, and focus on leading employees to become their own best healthcare advocates. There’s a lot of ground to cover. But we think you’ll get further by taking a step back, regrouping and committing to these basic communications principles as you prepare to lead your employees through some of the biggest changes our healthcare system has ever seen. Keep this year’s FAQ’s from becoming useless information graveyards by following these 4 Fundamental Principles of Fabulous FAQ’s: Divide and conquer – rather than having one FAQ document to address all things benefits related, we’ve seen better results by lumping your questions and answers together by topic. So if you have a question about your medical plan, head over to the Medical Plan FAQ’s. And if you have a question about your prescription plan? Start with the Prescription Plan FAQ’s. Naturally, there will be some overlap between documents. You wouldn’t want to ignore prescriptions under medical, but you may not need to go into as much detail there.  Re-organize as you go – this is the biggest mistake we see. It’s tempting to dump every question you get from an employee into your FAQ’s. But it’s a huge mistake. We advise that you wait until you’ve heard the same question at least three times before you weave it into your FAQ’s. As the content expands, you must be mindful of where you’re adding new questions. They may flow more logically in the middle, near a question addressing similar concerns. Do not just tack every random question onto the end of your FAQs! No one will read through every question in a desperate attempt to glean a tiny nugget of wisdom from your 32-page FAQ’s. They will bail on you and they will ultimately bail on your next communications piece – no matter how beautiful, well-written, or high-priority it may be. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) – It’s tempting to go into great detail in an effort to answer a question as fully as possible. But you need to bear in mind the purpose of a FAQ document — simple Q and A’s, that’s it. Inevitably, any question related to healthcare plans or benefits will entail a lengthy and complex answer. Whenever it’s possible, you should use links to other resources that more fully answer your employee’s question. This keeps your FAQ’s more succinct and helps employees scan the content quickly to discover the resources they need to resolve their issues and get back to work. Format it!!! – We’re not saying that you need to have photos, charts and adorable little infographics to make your FAQ’s legible. But we are saying, use that little “B” in the toolbar (you know, the one that makes things “bold”)! Increase the point size of your “question” and group your questions under logical headlines. Don’t just throw 23 questions into a word document and think someone’s going to read it. With a few simple tweaks, you can...

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Funny Friday: Sh*t Project Managers Say…

Posted on Jun 21, 2013 | 0 comments

We couldn’t help but watch this video a few times this week. It was like therapy for the office. How did this elude us for so long? If I had a dime for every time I said, “So…the purpose of this call is…” or “Thanks for jumping on the line, everyone…” Well, you know, I wouldn’t be blogging about my business right now. I’d be retired and living in my dream home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. But until that day comes, I thought we should all kick back and share a good laugh at our own expense. Watch the video below, then email us and share some “Sh*t HR Managers Say.” We want to pull together a little video for you guys. Don’t worry – your identities will NOT be revealed!!! Share...

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How Falling Into the Gap Taught Me to Be a Better Boss

Posted on Apr 25, 2013 | 4 comments

“Tell me about your best boss and your worst boss. What was so great or horrible about working for them?” It’s one of my go-to interview questions. It tells me a lot about a person’s general outlook, whether they are able to distinguish between a good and a bad boss, and what it is they’re looking for in a leader. On a recent interview, as a candidate went on and on about a bad boss in way too much detail, my mind began to drift to my own answer. (Note to future candidates: I can only listen to a whiney bullshit victim story for so long.) I wondered, who WAS my best boss? What WAS the best company I ever worked for? I had to stifle a smile when the answer came to me—my management team at the Gap. I was a little shocked that my answer took me all the way back to a part-time college job. It was kind of disheartening that I couldn’t think of one boss in my corporate career who stood out as “the best.” It just seemed like that should be the “right” answer. I started worrying what my answer said about me. And here’s what I realized… My bosses at Gap had “drunk the Kool-Aid,” as they say. They BELIEVED in the mission of the company. Our shifts started off with one-minute-meetings to bring us up to speed on the company’s focus for the day, often with additional explanation of how our daily goals tied into the week’s, month’s and even the year’s goals. Every Gap employee started his or her day with a clear intention that tied their contributions back to the company’s vision. So when I was “perfect-folding” (that’s Gap-speak, by the way), re-sizing and replenishing a wall of 1,500+ pairs of jeans, I was crystal clear on how that tedious task tied into the company’s vision. I wasn’t just folding a bajillion pairs of jeans, I was creating an optimal shopping experience for my customers. Yes, I too drank the Kool-Aid at Gap, Inc. And it was good. But why DID I love working at the Gap so much? What made that management team rise to the surface as my “best” bosses of all time? The answer is simple. They were crystal clear in how my efforts contributed to the Company’s vision. They told me in very precise terms at the beginning of EVERY freaking shift! I’ve rarely seen such clarity, leadership or teamwork since. The Gap really got it. Their vision leapt off the pages of their internal communications and became a living, breathing force within the company. If your Company’s vision is just some statement you trot out once a year for new hires or annual meetings, consider the making the following changes to breath new life into your people: Connect the dots – tell employees how routine (even unpleasant) tasks, changes in procedure, or new corporate initiatives relate to the Company’s vision. Pour it on thick – your vision should permeate your internal communications. Consistently bring your peoples’ attention back to the Company’s reason for being. Shake things up – don’t have time to meet regularly with employees? BULLSHIT! I just told you about a one-minute meeting that shaped the best work experience I ever had. Stop thinking of meetings as hour-long death sentences. Check in more frequently with your people (and yourself too for that matter). Share...

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Same-Sexing It Up with the Supremes…

Posted on Mar 26, 2013 | 0 comments

What Will SCOTUS’s ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 Mean for Employers? You may or may not have noticed that Facebook is an unusually garish shade of red today. People are changing their profile pictures and timeline headers to various red icons and duo-tone photos in support of gay marriage as the Supreme Court prepares to hear two landmark cases that could grant same-sex couples the right to marry. While a ruling won’t likely come down until some time in June of this year, people are in a frenzy of speculation about the possible outcomes. From an employer’s perspective, this could mean radical and swift changes in the way you administer your benefits—especially those provided to spouses. Should the legal definition of “spouse” change in the states where you conduct business, you might soon have a surge in qualified life changes as employees celebrate their new unions and same-sex spouses become eligible for employer-sponsored benefits. Many corporations – including big names such Apple, Goldman Sachs, Levi Strauss, Nike and Xerox – have signed a brief in support of Edith Windsor, who filed the challenge against the Defense of Marriage Act. “Our law firm, like a lot of large employers, have got any number of gay employees who are legally married in states where we have operations and Doma creates a real burden,” said Daryl Lapp, who signed the brief. “It’s very complicated to administer benefits when you’ve got people who are legally married under state law but not legally married under federal law. The second thing is just as a matter of employee relations. We feel that being forced to comply with Doma makes us the face of discrimination relative to our employees. We want to treat our employees equally and yet here is this federal law that effectively requires us to treat people in different ways.” If the DOMA is found unconstitutional, more than 1,000 laws will be affected by the new definition of the term “spouse.” As with all of the other workplace changes we’re facing in light of the Affordable Care Act, communications and strategy will be the key to guiding employees through these unfamiliar territories. How are you preparing for the possible changes? Are you aware of the potential costs your company faces if required by law to cover same-sex partners with the same benefits currently provided to spouses? Are your medical and insurance vendors prepared for a surge in qualified status changes and new enrollments? What messaging will you draft to be proactive in supporting your employees who are newly eligible for benefits? Share...

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