Strategic Communications Understand that Timing is Everything

Posted on Feb 29, 2016 | 0 comments

Strategic Communications Understand that Timing is Everything Time. It’s Enemy Number One when it comes developing your thoughtfully integrated communications strategy. Think about it. How long would it take to create a communications plan that: aligns your key messages with activities and trends in the real world; allows you enough time to stagger a series of thoughtfully orchestrated messages across multiple touch points; and doesn’t overwhelm you with its complexity, making you throw your hands up in defeat before you even get started? With so many priorities to communicate to your employees and so many options for distribution, the mere planning of a communications strategy can feel like more work than the actual execution of the plan itself. We’ve helped our clients get out from behind the reactive curve of communications with a few simple practices that hinge primarily on the simple use of a communications calendar. If you’ve been reading along with our series on strategic communications, you’ll know that we help clients assess past performance, prioritize future goals, and set metrics to help them communicate strategically with their employees. All of this thinking and planning is for naught, however, if we aren’t sharing key messages with employees on a consistent basis. If you’re having trouble staying ahead of the communications curve and find yourself missing key opportunities to tie valuable employer programs and benefits to trends in the real world, you’re likely winging it and could benefit strongly from the creation of a simple communications calendar. Here’s how we help clients prepare a full year’s worth of key messages to keep the conversations going with their employees: Pick your top five or six priorities for the year. Messages related to these priorities go into your calendar first. Align your priorities with trends in the real world where possible. There’s no need for you to create all of the momentum and enthusiasm around weight loss programs when the New Year trends in the headlines will do that for you! Work backwards: think about how many impressions you’ll need to make before employees start to register a need to engage with your offer. Will you need to send four emails over a four week period? Start at the end date of your campaign, with action deadlines and other key dates in mind, and work your way backwards towards your start date. Use an actual calendar to keep track of your goals – it’s not enough to say that you want to do something this year, you need to write it down, block out time to make it happen, and protect that time with your life. If communications really is a priority then you have to defend it against all the other demands of your job. Make it a practice. Check in with your calendar weekly at a minimum. Be mindful that you should be working a few weeks or months ahead to make sure you’re sending out finished messages in a timely manner. The beauty of doing such monotonous work – like creating a communications calendar – is that it becomes so much easier to implement. With all of your communications needs scheduled neatly into one central repository, your brain becomes freed up to handle impromptu requests without dropping the ball and missing out on opportunities to connect with employees about timely issues you’ve worked so hard to help them resolve. The deepest value of these sorts of systems is that they help you have timely, authentic, valuable conversations with your employees on a consistent basis. And that is the real secret to empowering an engaged, happy and productive workforce. Like...

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Metrics Matter: How Are Your Communications Measuring Up?

Posted on Feb 23, 2016 | 0 comments

With the development of easy-to-use, free communication tools it has become easier than ever to send a message to your audience at the drop of a hat. We’ve read varying reports that say the average American sees anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 media impressions per day. We aren’t sure which end of that wildly varying spectrum is right, but we are clear on one thing —regardless of the actual number, your audience’s attention is hard won these days. Which is why it’s so important to be able to gauge the response your communication efforts are garnering. “How do we know if they read the newsletter?” “How will we know if anyone is even going to come to these health screenings?” “Could we get away with sending just one email instead of four?” These are the things that keep you awake at night if you’re in charge of a communications budget. You feel hard pressed to prove that your communications are being read and making a measurable impact. But you can’t quite seem to wrap your head around how to track that desired outcome back to any specific piece of communication. If you haven’t been strategic about goal setting and incorporating tracking mechanisms into your communications, you’ve probably been ‘proving’ your value anecdotally through qualitative data that’s easy to refute. That’s a miserable place to find yourself when you’re trying to prove the value of what you do. So, let us address the juiciest of our Seven Secrets of Strategic Communications:   Secret #4: Measure Everything Communicating strategically requires that you set goals and measure outcomes for your communications. Gone are the days of canvassing all employees with the same messages via the same channels and hoping that they’ll engage. From QR codes to Google Analytics, we can now track every move our audience makes online. We can assign our communications unique codes at various stages of outreach to gauge precisely how many impressions it takes before someone finally clicks the call to action and follows through on our desired behavior. But metrics aren’t exclusive to the online or multimedia realm. Employees don’t have to have smart phones or work at computers for you to track their responses to your communications. Simple calls to action can be linked to pieces in the physical world to measure their response rate just as effectively. We recently helped a client boost enrollment in their new health coach program by offering a free gift for employees who brought our promotional coupon with them when they signed up. We promoted the program through a variety of channels (coupon, tent cards, posters, employee newsletter and break room plasma screen ads) but we only tracked the response rate to the coupon because we wanted to measure how incentives drove participation. We made no mention of the incentives in any of our other communications. HR managers were able to collect data simply by counting the coupons they received in exchange for the free gifts. Thus, we were able to measure the role of the incentive by comparing total number of sign-ups to total number of coupons redeemed. At the end of our communication cycle we were able to look at the quantitative data and conclude that twenty-four percent of the employees who enrolled did so in direct response to the coupon promotion. Gathering data on your communications’ response rate can seem tricky if you’ve never done it before. But a little creative thinking can go a long way towards answering the question of “what’s working and what’s not?” If you don’t know what’s working, then it’s time to...

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Why Communicating Strategically Means DOING Less…

Posted on Feb 16, 2016 | 0 comments

  One reason we don’t take the time to slow down and think strategically is because it scares the crap out of us. We all seem to live in a state of fear that our boss might walk by our desks and catch us reading an article online instead of replying to another pesky email. We’ve bought into this myth that anything that’s not active production is somehow listless daydreaming or squandering of company resources. I once had a boss whose face you could literally see twitching when she came by my desk and saw me brazenly reading a design magazine or following along with an online tutorial. It brought me great pleasure to make her twitch—who wants to work for someone that doesn’t want you to think?!?!? Not me! So let me be clear about something—thinking is working. You officially have my permission to think on the clock—although, I can’t vouch for your boss’s reaction. #thinkatyourownrisk If you want measurable results; if you want engaged employees; if you want a demonstrable return on your communications investment—you have to start thinking about what you’re doing! Unfortunately, we often hesitate to dream too big at work for fear that we’re just making more work for ourselves. If you’re trying to develop a strategic communications plan, you have to start thinking BIGGER and you have to stop worrying about how it’s all going to get done. Which brings us to the third secret in our series on communicating strategically…   Secret #3 – You Can’t Do It All. You have to learn to prioritize. Last week we looked back at your Turnaround Report and asked three simple questions: what worked, what didn’t, and knowing what you know now—what would you do differently? Now it’s time to prioritize. Start with your previous year’s projects and determine which are worth repeating, which ones need to be modified, and which ones need to go away completely. Next, fill in any blanks or missing pieces. Here are a few suggestions we share with our clients when we’re mapping out a long-range communications plan together: look for areas where employees are going to be challenged in the coming year; consider which audiences might need additional support or have been underserved in the past; think about communications channels that might reduce costs or allow you to reach employees in more effective and timely ways; ask where you might make the most significant impact in your employees’ habits, values or skillsets; and list key messages that you’re legally required to communicate. As you respond to the prompts above and your priorities begin to surface, you must make a choice about what will get done and what will be set aside. You may choose to revisit other projects that are not a current priority at a later date, but for now just focus on those key messages that must be communicated next. If you’re new to all of this and you find it a bit daunting, try breaking it down into smaller periods of time. Instead of mapping out an entire year of communications focus only on next quarter. Then as the next quarter approaches, set aside some time to prepare by repeating the steps in this series. Strategic planning can be an overwhelming challenge if you’re used to taking orders based on someone else’s goals for your department. A lot of corporations default to what we sarcastically call a trickle down communications plan. A plan in name only, this reactive approach to communicating is void of priorities and completely incapable of delivering any return on investment. A little time spent...

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Three Simple Questions That Drive Strategic Communications

Posted on Feb 8, 2016 | 0 comments

Last week we laid out the steps for looking back at your previous 365 days of communications in the communications planning phase that we like to call The Turnaround. If you completed your assignment and mapped out your Turnaround Report then you’re probably getting eager to clean up that pile of paper down the hall before one more co-worker whines about the block you’ve placed on that conference room. So grab your report and get ready to dig a little deeper as we reveal Secret #2 in our series—The 7 Secrets of Strategic Communications. This is where things get fun.   Secret #2 – Answer Three Simple Questions… The real benefit of documenting past communications is in what it can tell you as you prepare your future communications. In The Turnaround phase, we sidelined any evaluation or judgment, focusing instead on mining for content and compiling the most comprehensive collection of information possible. Now it’s time to review your past communications by asking three simple questions: what worked; what didn’t; and knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time? When we apply this filter to our clients’ work we often discover things like overlooked audiences, failure to incorporate tracking tools to measure a campaign’s response rate, or missed opportunities to follow up on key initiatives with meaningful ongoing communications. This process works because of the 20/20 nature of hindsight. Often we are forced to operate from a place of reaction rather than strategy, making it easy to gloss over best practices that can make or break the success of your communications. Looking back at what did and didn’t work can shed light on areas or processes in need of improvement before you find yourself in the throes of panicked production. And identifying what you would do differently prepares you to implement better strategies for producing communications that yield measurable results. Next week, we’ll help you map out your next strategic steps so that your communications plan doesn’t become a repeat offense of last year. Until then, we encourage you to go group by group through your Turnaround Report asking: what worked, what didn’t, and what would you do differently next time? Like what you read today? Sign up for our monthly email newsletter to have future blog posts sent directly to your inbox. Click here to sign up.   Share...

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Turn Around and Communicate Strategically

Posted on Feb 1, 2016 | 0 comments

Secret #1: Turn Around What comes to mind when you think, “communications strategy?” Sounds good, but I really don’t have the time. I know what I’m doing, we’ll get the results we want or at least move the ball forward a little. So why slow down to map out what’s in my head? Thanks for the plan, but who’s going to actually DO the work? We feel your pain. There’s nothing worse than slowing down before you ramp up. You feel it in your bones—this frenzy to just plow forward and get stuff done. It seems counter-intuitive and even a little un-American to slow down! It’s just plain hard to stop DOING. In the corporate world, we get caught up in this feeling that our value is somehow directly linked to our output. As if cranking out enough widgets will eventually culminate in a pile so big that the world will HAVE to pat us on the back and say, “well done.” Well, what if that pile of widgets is really just a pile of… well… you know? The companies and teams that are really making strides in their industry are lead by creative ideas. These ideas aren’t born in cubicle farms where teams just churn out products all day long. They’re created outside of the do-or-die paradigm by leaders who set aside time to THINK—which brings us to the first of the seven secrets of strategic communications. It’s Time for a Communications Turnaround Communicating without a plan is kind of like walking and texting. You’re going somewhere, but when you get there you can’t really recall any details from your journey. And if you’re not careful you could end up like these folks. So before you walk headlong into a fountain or get mauled by a bear, take some time to assess the lay of the land. This part of the process is only about past communications. We’re looking simply at what has been done. There are NO value judgements here. It’s an objective assessment of the state of your communications at this particular point in time. This phase of communications planning is quite grossly referred to as “the communications audit.” But who wants to do an audit?!?!? At Lab Monkey Communications, we call it The Turnaround—not just because we’re looking back, but because this practice of looking back leads to turnarounds in the way our clients communicate going forward. Start by pulling every little piece out into the light—all PDFs, all email or text campaigns, all online ads, and all of the other communications from the past 365 days. Then, catalogue them by categories—such as key messages, audiences, internal departments, etc. Spread these pieces out somewhere that you can continue adding to the piles over the span of about a week. You’ll find that as you move through this process you’ll recall various campaigns or pieces that need to be filled in or hunted down and added to your stacks. Dedicating a week to cataloguing an entire year’s worth of communications may seem like overkill but it’s usually the right amount of time for our clients. It’s just enough time to make real progress without losing focus or getting frustrated from an unsettling pause in production. When you think you’re done gathering your past year’s worth of communications, take some time to write down the main categories you’ve created and list the pieces you’ve assigned to each section. We’re sort of anal about these things at Lab Monkey Communications, so you’ll find our Turnaround Reports in Excel (though beautifully formatted, we must say). But if you’re doing this at...

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