There are a lot of effective communication strategies out there, including the ones I’m about to write about, but sometimes you should ignore them. That’s right. They’re the best, they’re successful, they work. Ditch them. (If by chance this is my college professor Mr. Casey – please stop reading this. I still follow everything you taught!)
Stick to a Consistent Message and Brand
This is especially important for start-ups and companies with very little communication history. But what if you are a 10-year-old business? Do your last 6 months of Facebook messages all have the same styled image, same font and same general message? Look at your last 10 press releases. Do all the quotes sound like they came from the same playbook? Is your spokesperson writing these media responses while chewing gum and using one of those desktop Zen gardens to make sand art? It might be time to break out of the messaging mold if it’s holding you back from embracing some personality and creativity.
Here’s an example: You work at a nonprofit with connections to the medical field. Every year Doctor’s Day rolls around on March 30 and your director writes a letter thanking doctors everywhere. You publish a press release announcing the day and how eternally grateful everyone is for physicians and their work. This is a tried and true practice but probably won’t gain much attention. What if instead, your team worked with a local musician to come up with an original thank you song and then sent a barber shop quartet or banjo player to the area’s hospitals to sing floor to floor? Could this be a social media hit? Maybe. Could you gain local coverage from a lifestyle reporter? Probably. Will this be memorable to your target audience, the overworked medical professionals? Absolutely.
Follow the Inverted Triangle Format
This is communication strategy 101. If you’ve taken a communication class or workshop in the last 20 years, this was probably what you learned first. And to be fair, I use it all the time, but sometimes I should ditch it, and so should you.
The idea is that you put the most important information at the top, in the headline, followed by additional helpful information, then some random details at the bottom for people who are really dedicated and make it to the end. Most news stories are written this way. Why? Because it works, and it’s easy. Most people don’t read complete articles, so you need to get the important messaging out first. So why ditch it? Because no one would read books if people wrote this way; books titles would be, “It wasn’t the husband, it was the perfectly nice neighbor lady next door.” And then you wouldn’t have to read the novel.
Create some suspense! Introduce some real people. Make your communications work a little harder than the triangle approach. This is especially true of internal communications; people don’t just want to be told information all the time. Switch it up and create meaningful content that shares a whole experience with a little intrigue. If you think this can’t work for the media, check out this story from the local Chattanooga area as a great example! Unfit – A Court’s prediction fractured a Chattanooga family before it began. Experts say they’re not alone. - Chattanooga Times Free Press
Hold a Focus Group
You won’t find bigger proponents of research-based communications planning than the staff at Q Strategies, so why am I picking on the classic research tactic, the focus group? It is full of pitfalls.
I studied the best practices for focus group to gain my accreditation in public relations (APR), I’ve watched them take place from a two-way mirror and I’ve participated in them myself. They are supposed to be a great alternative to an expensive scientific study or a first step that helps direct further research. Too often, they are quoted and used to define communication strategy as if they represent a much broader research set. Here are some challenges you should consider if you’re thinking about holding a focus group:
- One bully in the group can derail the whole thing by discouraging others from participating.
- It’s difficult to find 15 people that actually represent your target audience.
- Too often, facilitators recruit people they know are experts in the field and may not accurately represent a cross section of ideas and opinions.
- A focus group is often held to check the research box, rather than to bring new ideas to the table that are then thoroughly researched through more scientific measures.
If you decide a focus group is right for your project, you must use an experienced facilitator to keep the discussion on track and to control the majority from running over the ideas of the minority. There are some good choices right here in Chattanooga, but you may want to consider bringing someone in from a neighboring city to ensure participants doesn’t know the facilitator. We have found that one-on-one communication can be a much better way to gather early research. Check out some of our tips: 3 Affordable Ways to Gather Data and Define a Target Market.
What communications best practices do you like to ignore? Do you agree or disagree with the ideas above? Tell us in the comments!