In uncertain times, clear communication is more important than ever
You’ve probably heard the story of the wife who complained to her husband, “You never tell me you love me!”
And he replied, “Well, I told you I loved you when we got married—33 years ago. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
That’s how some organizations approach their communications. They formulated their message years ago. They have their mission statement, their website, their newsletters, their annual reports, and their tagline. Why should they tamper with any of that?
Here’s why: like that communication-starved wife, the public needs regular, refreshed reminders of who you are, what your mission is, what you’re doing, and how it affects them.
Even more importantly, the world is changing. And no matter what corner of that world you occupy, the changes are affecting you. To stay relevant, your messaging must respond quickly and effectively to a shifting environment.
It’s now 2017 budget-setting season for many organizations. As you draft next year’s budget, pay special attention to communications. This would be a good time to formulate a clear, specific communication strategy—one that aligns seamlessly with your mission.
Time to take inventory
Start by examining your past and current efforts, noting what worked and what didn’t. Do your communications truly reflect your organization’s mission? Or have they slowly, imperceptibly, drifted off course? It’s important to be brutally honest. Glossing over failures won’t benefit anyone.
Take a look at your web presence. How current are the bios on your about page? Was your last blog post two years ago? Obsolete content not only doesn’t help you—it hurts you. You’re losing search engine traffic, and more importantly, viewers are making note of your retro messaging. They may even wonder if you’re still in operation!
How about your social media efforts? Some organizations don’t take Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest seriously. But they should. Why? Because that’s where the people are. If you want eyeballs lingering over your message and images, you simply must have a strong presence on these platforms.
Of course, nothing is more important than your direct outreach to your existing donor/ customer base. If they’re getting the same boring oatmeal from you every month, it may be time to change the menu.
Which brings us to another important truth:
Every organization needs a makeover from time to time
Maybe it’s time to update or refresh your brand.
Your organization’s brand serves several functions. First, it tells your donors or customers what they can expect from you. That’s important. People like reliability in the organizations they deal with. Don’t disappoint them.
Second, your brand serves to differentiate you from others in your field. What are your distinctives—the things that only you offer? You should know them and communicate them—clearly, over and over.
And third, your brand helps to keep you on mission. By constantly referring back to your organization’s core identity, you’ll avoid getting sidetracked, like that ship that drifts off course.
Your brand should determine your communication strategy—not vice versa.
And your strategy should determine your budget—not vice versa.
Your branding initiative should include a communications audit. This will help you define:
- Your brand promise
- Your messaging
- How to articulate your brand
- Your stakeholder universe
You can then evaluate your communication channels, and your deliverables within each of those channels.
Expect the unexpected
Do you have a crisis communication strategy? You should.
Most of us don’t expect bad or catastrophic things to happen. But they do. A crisis might be triggered by a natural disaster, financial scrutiny, or personal failure. When it happens, you should already know what you’re going to do. That requires planning.
You should reformulate your crisis communication strategy every year. And practice it—every year. Then when you hit rough seas, you’ll know how to maintain a steady course. You’ll be able to communicate calmly, clearly, reassuringly to your public—because you’ve prepared for it.
It’s also a good idea to submit your crisis communication strategy to a third party for review. After all, there are people who deal with these things all the time. They know how to handle them. You’ll be wise to avail yourself of that knowledge when the stakes for your organization may be high.
Don’t go it alone
Calling on expert help from outside may not feel comfortable, but it’s often the best course. And nearly every organization can benefit from having a fresh set of eyes on its communications.
If you’d rather spend your efforts on what your do best, there’s an army of specialists waiting to help you with the other tasks. Writing, photography, videography, graphic design, web design—it can all be effectively, economically outsourced.
Communication is a specialized skill. When you need to take your messaging to the next level, call on the specialists.
That’s wise stewardship.