Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What goes around comes around

Something over a decade ago, a large industrial client approached me to produce a guide to writing newsletters. The European end of this global business was made up of many constituent businesses and each was spawning its own communications - at that time, paper newsletters of all hues, all styles and vastly variable quality. The European corporate centre didn't want to stymie communication, but wanted to bring some coherance and consistency....and most of all wanted to demonstrate that there was much more to communication than the latest 'tick the box' project newsletter. So, what emerged a few weeks later was not a guide to writing newsletters, but a guide looking at needs, audiences and outcomes first - and then moving on to the 'how' later.

When I first set up my business website, an 'essay' version of the guide became one of my toolkit offerings. The emphasis had moved a little towards change communications, but the essential message remained the same.

This morning, another client contacted me asking if I still had a copy of the original guide (one of her colleagues had moved from client A to client B and they'd got talking etc. etc....) as she's facing that same proliferation of newsletters from all parts of her organisation. Some are electronic and others on paper - but it sounds like it's more 'tick the box' stuff.

I'm about five computers on from writing the original guide, and am not sure if I even have a copy. If I do, it's in a lock-up with the rest of the Leapfrog archive. But I was able to point her to what's on my website. If you're interested, but too lazy to hit the link, it's reproduced below. It probably needs updating now, but the sentiment remains.

So you want a new newsletter?

You’ve been given the job of communicating a major change, and your boss has suggested producing a newsletter. So what do you do next? Leapfrog’s advice?...........................

Now, let’s start again. You’ve been given the job of communicating major change. So what are the essentials you need to consider before you even reach a point where you decide on your communication mechanisms?

First of all, consider Why you are communicating What’s the need for the work you’ve been asked to do? Write down a few paragraphs of background to articulate this need and to provide the communication context.

Okay, you’ve got a general need, and the next thing to consider is who you are communicating with. Who are your stakeholders – and what’s the impact of what you want to say going to be on them?

Right from the start it’s important to realise that communication is successful only if it creates the right impact on your audiences, prompting them into the action you want them to take.
And what are those actions? Well, they’ll be based on your objectives. What do you want to achieve as a specific result of this communication?

Again, write them down – and try to limit them to three or four things that are achievable – world peace is a bit ambitious for the average communication campaign. The key is to link them directly to your organisation’s stated business objectives.

Objectives lead directly into success factors. What will success look and feel like if you get this communication right? To drag communication kicking and screaming away from accusations of being nebulous and distant from the business perspective, these factors much be quantifiable – and thus measurable.

So we know who we’re talking to and why – and what it will look and feel like if our communication is a success. Now it’s time to look at what needs to be communicated – your key messages. Step into your audiences’ shoes to focus on what they need to know – not necessarily what your boss wants to say - to achieve your objectives.

Look at prioritisation so that you focus your maximum effort on winning the awareness, understanding, buy-in and commitment from your prime influencers. Don’t waste your time on those who are easy to reach but do little to forward your cause.

It’s only at this point that you consider how you might reach your audience.

Make sure you’re aware of their preferences for receiving information and how they choose to share it.

Look at what already exists within your organisation and look for opportunities to tie into existing channels and mechanisms and share the load with other communication colleagues.

Define clearly the role of management through the line and, indeed of employees in any communication exercise. You may manage the communication channels, but your role is primarily to facilitate communication, not to own every piece of the jigsaw.

Normally at Leapfrog, we draw up a matrix with you at this stage, mapping kinds of messages against potential mechanisms to draw out what’s most effective for each.

You never know, the answer may even include a newsletter – though this is most likely to be a supporting rather than a primary communication tool.

The bottom line is that your communication will be far more effective if you’re prepared to invest time in planning it properly first. Then it’s a case of learning from what you do, and applying what you’ve learned next time round to ensure you get ever closer to your audiences’ needs – while directly supporting your business’ strategy.

copyright Mark Shanahan 2006

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