Category Archives: Communication strategy

Blocking out noise to focus

Distractions can divert you from your core message and business purpose

Photo by: yellomello, fotolia.comNoise could be on my mind today because of the contractors who are tearing out a tile floor the level above my office. Or because of the gale-force winds that have been ripping through Denver and keeping us up at night.

Yet, I have found a way to sleep in spite of the howling, and I am now at my desk writing in spite of the loud bangs and crashes above my head. So, it got me thinking about the various forms of ‘noise’ that can happen in our daily business lives.

As communicators and news lovers, I think PR people and writers can be especially prone to allowing noise to seep in and distract us from our core work and purpose. We want to be in on all the conversations, we want to participate in the latest Twitter chat, and we don’t want to miss out on the next big trend. That desire to be in the know can lead us down any number of rabbit holes and, when we come back to our original task, we wonder “Ok, now, what was I doing?”

Right. What are you doing? What is the purpose behind your work today? If you can’t come up with an answer, then it’s time to start at the beginning: strategy.

You don’t need to spend days at a retreat to come up with this strategy, but you do need some time away from all the ‘noise’ that distracts you. Sit alone quietly or grab a few key team members and discuss some answers to the question: “What is the purpose of our work?”

(Check out these articles for some inspiration to help drive this conversation: “Purpose: The Secret Ingredient that Drives Business Success,” Forbes; “5 Tips for a Useful Mission Statement,” Inc.)

Once you have given words to your reason for existing – once you have named your purpose – you can put those words to use for you. Those words begin to have meaning and can give you focus as you put them into practice.

For example, if you own a cupcake shop and you have decided that your purpose is to “share the joy of crazy flavors and killer frosting with the best community in the world” (I may or may not be craving cupcakes right now), then those words should guide your decisions about where you spend your time and what information you share.

Your time and your messages will focus on interesting flavors and perhaps the sources of those flavors. You will focus messages on your local community, why you chose to live and work there, and how your business fits into that vibe. You will not waste time talking about the noise of celebrity gossip or the latest national political debate. Stay focused on your purpose and let it drive your communication decisions.

Of course, as your business grows and evolves, your purpose may change. Be sure to revisit it once in awhile to ensure that it both sums up and inspires your work.

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Election Day lessons for business communicators

© Foto-Ruhrgebiet - Fotolia.comElection Day was yesterday, which was met with little fanfare in my area. With no presidents or governors to elect, the off-year election doesn’t carry the same sex appeal for the media as even-year campaigning.

Still, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Two local candidates for city council were slinging mud, and the ads for one major ballot question used soundbites and incomplete information to push an agenda.

I am not a political writer, thank goodness, so I won’t get into the details of the politics. The politics are not really the point of my post anyway.

I take seriously my right to vote, and I voted in this election as I have in every election since I turned 18. Before I vote, I read a lot. I read the full text of ballot questions, as well as the pro and con arguments. I read letters and websites from organizations I trust about why they are for or against an idea or candidate. I read candidate websites. I even read the dozens of mailers dumped on me in the weeks prior to Election Day, although I can’t say I find much value in those.

In all of that reading this year, I was reminded again of some basic rules of communication that everyone should follow. Even if the politicos will not follow these simple rules of courtesy and clarity, business communicators would be wise to heed them – assuming you hope to inspire respect and loyalty.

Think beyond the headline or the soundbite
The headline, soundbite or subject line is meant to hook your audience. It tells the audience that the content to follow is worth reading or hearing. It is not the entire message. If you don’t back up your hook with useful information, your message is flimsy. Give your audience enough detail to help them understand your product or brand a little better each time they read or hear a message from you.

Assume intelligence among your audience
I’m not talking about using five-dollar words. I am talking about assuming your reader not only wants to learn more, but has the intelligence to understand the full scope of the information and make a decision accordingly. It is your job to make the content digestible and easy to understand, but it is not your job to think for your audience.

Details matter
If your website is riddled with typos and errors (school board candidates, I’m looking at you here), I will judge you. Even if your reader doesn’t actively judge you, those mistakes water down your message. At best, they distract from the professionalism you want to convey. At worst, they give your potential customer a reason to check “yes” next to your competitor’s name and not yours.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Print vs. electronic communication

© bloomua - Fotolia.com

Having worked in this business for more than 15 years, I have seen communications vehicles, such as newsletters, swing from predominantly print pieces to electronic and back again. My previous employer had even been sending one of its newsletters by fax before I took the job (that was more than a decade ago).

I recently met with a law firm to discuss creating a newsletter that it plans to send to its clients and business contacts, and we decided together that print was the preferable medium for the firm’s needs.

Electronic newsletters and e-mail marketing pieces still have their place, of course, but it’s helpful to consider the benefits of each medium before proceeding:

Benefits of print communication:

Visibility and readership
I checked my own e-mail inbox and counted no fewer than two dozen different senders of e-newsletters and e-mail blasts. I requested each of these subscriptions, and they all contain material I want to read. In reality, though, I read maybe three or four of those communications each week – and only on weeks when I am not crazy busy. In fact, this week’s headline on one of those issues is “9 Ways to Get Your E-mail Opened” (and I do intend to read that one).

The print magazines and newsletters I receive, however? I read every issue.

Reader-friendly layout
No scrolling. No browser-specific layout glitches. No words smashed up against photos. All the information is laid out in easy-to-digest sections.

Professional feel
Paper quality, high-resolution photos, layout and color schemes help create a professional feel. In addition, print often allows for more in-depth coverage of issues. For some industries, such as the law firm I mentioned earlier, those professional touches go a long way.

The coffee-break test
Unless I am meeting with a friend or client, I rarely take a lunch or coffee break without reading material. Sometimes that material is on my smartphone or Kindle, but more often than not, it’s when I take the time to read my magazines and professional newsletters.

Benefits of electronic communication:

Timeline
Without print deadlines to consider, e-mail communications can be sent almost immediately, especially if minimal graphic design is required. E-mail marketing systems make it easy to lay out and send a marketing piece or newsletter immediately and often.

Cost
Depending on the size of your business and e-mail list, using an e-mail marketing system can be quite cost effective. Graphic design services and flipbook software for sending high-quality, larger pieces like e-magazines, can get more pricey.

Links
If one of your primary objectives is to drive traffic to your website, an e-newsletter can be a simple way to link your readers to more content there.

Ability to track readership
E-mail marketing systems allow you to pull reports on number of e-mails opened, links clicked, content shared and more. That information can be invaluable for future marketing and communication efforts.

For most businesses, a mix of both print and electronic pieces makes sense. Which one do you tend to use more and why?

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.