Archive for the ‘Strategic Planning’ Category
Why the SOPA Blackout Worked
When we first posted about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout protest scheduled for January 23, we had no idea that Wikipedia and Reddit (which had planned a January 18 blackout protest) would persuade other sites to join their effort yesterday. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 10,000 sites participated in the SOPA protest by either making their sites inaccessible, or “blacked out”, on Wednesday or posting messages to encourage visitors to contact Congress about SOPA.
It appears their bold effort worked.
By the end of Wednesday, at least three lawmakers withdrew their support for the legislation – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) withdrew from SOPA, which is the House version of the bill. A few more may be added to that list this morning.
Google reports that at least 4.5 million people signed their online anti-SOPA petition during the protest. Even the White House received nearly 104,000 signatures on a We the People petition calling for President Obama to block passage of bills like SOPA and PIPA.
It is still too early for SOPA protesters to get excited, as support remains for PIPA and SOPA in the Senate and House, respectively. However, the success of the SOPA blackout protest thus far demonstrates how understanding your audience and using what they value to make them take action can spur policy change.
Internet users are constituents, and removing their access to content or interrupting their Web routines with SOPA and PIPA protest notices compelled them to get involved in the protest in their own way. It just goes to show that reaching your audiences where they are is an effective way for communicators to raise awareness and encourage action on an issue. Plus, it doesn’t hurt your cause if you get support from an opinion leader like Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
While time will tell if signatures to online petitions and increased calls and emails to Capitol Hill on Wednesday changed the outcome of the January 24 vote in favor of SOPA and PIPA protesters, it is already evident that the reach and response to yesterday’s Internet blackout will definitely impact it.
Social Marketing Lessons from the Undead
I know I need duct tape, water, non-perishable food goods, batteries, blankets and flashlights. But learning about emergency preparedness beyond the basics has always put me to sleep…until today.
Now, I have to think about the zombies. Yes, zombies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) new Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic has turned the standard disaster preparation message into a trendy, wry graphic novel that will catch the attention of kids, the mildly curious and certainly this writer.
When the CDC first introduced the zombie storyline in May 2011, blog hits rose from from 3,000 to 3 million, with more than 500 comments. With proof that zombies are the gateway to successful health communications, the agency began a video contest (see below), offered Zombie Task Force T-shirts and just introduced this zombie-themed novella in time for Halloween. They’re betting that critically important information on safety will reach many more millions if it’s rising out of the miasma of a Zombie invasion. I know that I have never been so excited about emergency preparedness.
This approach is a great reminder that as communications professionals, it often pays off to be reinventive and funky, as long as we keep our eye on an end goal of informing and persuading audiences – or surviving a zombie invasion.
As someone who spends a lot of time working on the issue of electricity grid modernization, I get a number of trade publications every day. They love to cover (and we love to weigh in on) the power industry’s struggles to engage customers. Since most utilities are virtual monopolies, most have never really talked with their customers, much less asked them what they want or need. One of these trades, an online publication, covered the most recent study asking electricity customers what they think about upgrading the power grid. The subject line read “Consumers still don’t grok smart grid, though buy-in key: studies.”
[Insert sound of stereo needle screeching to a halt] Grok? In over 20 years working in communications and marketing, I have never run across that term. But it’s quite possible I missed something along the way, so I conducted a quick poll of my colleagues. Of 29 employees, eight thought they had seen the word before but only two — less than 10 percent — knew what it meant.
So you don’t have to Google it, the word originated in the 1961 Robert Heinlein novel Stranger in a Strange Land. In the book, it’s a Martian word! It has entered our vernacular and now is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish a rapport with.”
Whether the average customer will ever understand, much less “establish a rapport with,” the smart grid is material for another post. But the point here is that the publication used a word in its subject line that likely grabbed attention, but distracted from the larger message. I and others spent so much time looking it up and chuckling about the word choice that we never did read the article thoroughly — and the article was about communicating with customers! The ironies in this situation were stumbling over each other to present themselves.
The New York Times recently ran an article about words in our language that are better left unwritten. The list had originally been compiled by a certain New York magazine editor, and is thus quite subjective, but still a good rundown of words that are, as the writer called it, “phony baloney vocabulary.” Words such as authored, celeb and dubbed were listed. Both that list and the situation above spotlight the urge that writers sometimes feel to get fancy with language — and the folly in doing so. Writing should be greater than the sum of its parts. If you want your reader to “grok” you, avoid over-taxing his or her vocabulary. Otherwise the reader, whether dumbfounded or smug, will spend too much time thinking about you — and not enough time absorbing your message.
Controversial Cultural Incompetency
Much like Kenneth Cole’s mishap earlier this month, the social buying site Groupon found itself in hot water after its Super Bowl commercial that seemed to mock the struggles of the Tibetan people. The organization has since pulled its ad, with Groupon founder Andrew Mason taking personal responsibility for airing the commercials. While Groupon continues to rank in the top 10 free application list in Apple’s App Store, it will be interesting to watch its long-term trajectory, especially as it prepares to enter the Chinese market, in addition to facing competition from many other social buying sites.
Many are incredulous as to how Groupon wasn’t aware of the commercial’s obvious problems, even if the company was trying to mock itself and not Tibet. Incidences like this underscore the importance of cultural competence when planning any kind of public campaign. Cultural competency requires, at a minimum, research on the potentially controversial issue, an understanding of the current environment, and focus groups to test the concepts. If Groupon had tested its commercials with the representatives from the groups mentioned in the ad, the company would have known immediately that the approach would not go over well.
In the social marketing world that strives to make a positive impact, cultural competency is even more crucial, because we’re not selling products. We’re selling education, awareness and behaviors that enrich lives – many of which are culturally different from our own. Expanding our true understanding of and respect for other cultures may mean the difference between a population’s success or failure.
A worthy example of culturally competent social marketing is the Ad Council’s Superhéroes campaign from March 2008. The campaign sought to lessen the stigma for Latinos regarding going to the doctor and encouraged them to go for regular health check-ups. The volunteer agency researched Latinos’ knowledge of the health care system, preventative health, and their attitudes and behaviors concerning their own well-being. Most importantly, the agency researched what culturally relevant factors would motivate Latinos to see a doctor, and formulated those factors into the campaign. It is notoriously difficult to evaluate health campaigns’ positive outcomes, but the agency did right by not assuming it knew the specific cultural factors beforehand, nor did it assume it knew better than its target audience.
The State of the State of the Union
How many times have those of us with children been asked, “Tell me the story about the day I was born” (or if they were adopted, “Tell me the story about the day you brought me home.”)? Children never get tired of hearing stories about themselves, because those stories help them define who they are. As a nation, we listen every year to the story the President tells us about our country in the State of the Union because it defines who we are, and who we hope to be.
The great speeches of our time are those that tell a story that unites us and that captures an emotion we all are feeling. Think about Ronald Reagan (or actually, the great speechwriter, Peggy Noonan) who captured the nation’s grief after the Challenger tragedy:
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
Each year, I like to watch the State of the Union to see the story the President will tell. As communicators, we work to craft stories in a way that will compel and convince, and each year, it is fascinating to see how every President tells the story of the United States. We know that, whether we’re giving a speech or relaunching a brand, we need to know our audience, to control our own message, and to be prepared to defend our brand in a crisis. To accomplish all this, President Obama’s State of the Union speech needed to capture the somber mood of a nation still remembering the Tucson shooting, reframe the mid-term election which handed his party solid defeats, and convince the nation that “the state of the union is strong.” He also wanted to move the country away from “business as usual” in the ways it governed and invested. From a communicator’s perspective, how did President Obama do?
Know Your Audience
The Congressional cliques were broken up when Democrats and Republicans comingled in the audience, instead of sitting along party lines, for the State of the Union. But Congress still looked to their party leaders — embodied by Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner sitting behind the President — for how to react to the speech. President Obama began by praising and welcoming Boehner and by mentioning the empty chair where Representative Gabrielle Giffords should be sitting. We often counsel clients giving speeches to include “shout-outs” to people so that the audience is immediately engaged. While President Obama went on to do the traditional shout-outs to people who were brought in because their stories proved a point, these first two acknowledgments were clever because every member of Congress was likely to applaud either Boehner or Giffords, if not both.
Control Your Story
You might never have known that the Democrats suffered bitter defeat at the hands of Republicans in the last election if you listened to President Obama’s speech. In his speech, the American people had voted to ensure that government ruled with strong voices from both parties, and the divisiveness was really just the “contentious and frustrating and messy” process of democracy. Obama went a step further, making the party differences seem trivial compared to the big picture:
We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.
Defend Your Brand
Anyone who has fundamental policy differences with the President represents a dissenting story from the one the President wanted to tell during the State of the Union. Obama preempted much of the dissent by painting disagreement as a welcome part of the democratic process and by making the villain of the story — because every good story must have a villain — not the Republicans, but the other countries who are poised to take advantage of any competitive weakness we show:
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.
Some criticized the President for a lackluster delivery, especially after the rousing speech he gave in Tucson.
But, from a communicator’s perspective, I think he did what he needed to do, which was to turn down the heated rhetoric. He acknowledged that he knew his audience, he reframed his “story” and he preempted some — although certainly not all — criticism from Conservatives. And how did he communicate about innovation? Interestingly, if you look only at the words that Obama used, you will see the hot-button issues he emphasized, despite the tone. “Americans,” “jobs” and “work” — all key issues. But also one other word, which has not played a large role since Johnson and Kennedy State of the Unions: “new.”
A Year of InSites: Sticking to Goals Leads to Success
This guest blog post is from Juanita Panlener, an Account Supervisor at Vanguard Communications.
This past year, I’ve been reminded of one of the most important aspects of social marketing — creating and sticking to a communications plan that guides and drives outreach strategy and activities.
A trusted colleague recently compared the role of strategic communications plans to the work of career counselors. Sometimes, people simply don’t know what career or line of work fits with their vision of themselves. Career counselors help people uncover (and often, untangle) their interests and talents, and identify how to make the best of them in the workplace. This can be a tough job because people tend to have many more interests than talents — the trick is to match interests and talents in a way that translates into a physically and emotionally rewarding employment situation.
The strategic communications process is similar in that it involves identifying, as clearly as possible, what we want the end result of our efforts to be. Along the way, we can be tempted to add other interesting but unrelated endeavors to our work — but our goal is our anchor that brings us back to our core strategic plan.
As professional communicators, it is our job to help those who’ve entrusted us with their mission to keep them on track, no matter how exciting or popular that latest communications tool may seem. If it doesn’t in some way contribute to the communications goal, we should be the ones to steer them away from it (unless it’s time to adjust that goal).
But doing so is not easy. At times, it can be very challenging to be the ones to repeat and reinforce the communications goal, objectives, audiences, messages, strategies, and tactics. I admire and endeavor to learn from my fellow communicators who do so confidently, persuasively, always tactfully, and without discouraging creativity. After all, despite our knowledge of communications and years of experience, we never want to think so much of ourselves that we dismiss the knowledge and insights of those whose mission we support. We also don’t want to be so accommodating that we allow our clients to head into a direction that might hurt them in the long run.
But time after time, we’ve seen how leaning on the strategic communications plan leads to positive outcomes for our clients, and ultimately, for us as communicators.
A Year of InSites: Internal Communications Helps Move Things Along
This guest blog post is from Tracy Packard Ferrell, Vice President of Operations for Vanguard Communications.
We moved our offices this year. Even though it was not a part of most employees’ responsibilities, it still impacted everyone, so communication with staff became an important part of the build and move process. Perhaps because Vanguard is a staff of communicators, they expected more information than just knowing when the move was going to take place.
It came to my attention very quickly that staff wanted to know not only about the move, but about the space selection process, design and color concepts development, and space build status, too. It required a communication system that allowed employees to learn about the updates without disrupting the workflow of the operations staff.
Because building and moving activities are so fluid and change so rapidly, I established an activities entry on our Intranet. At the end of each week, I would list what was accomplished for the week and what was scheduled for the coming week. At each milestone, we talked to the staff directly and answered their questions. One month prior to our move, we had a meeting just to discuss the move, how the whole process was going to transpire, and what was expected of every employee.
Communication with staff reduced the stress about the move and changes that occur when moving. But best of all, it created excitement about the design of the new space. Like many external communications efforts, all it took was knowing our audience, appropriate planning, and thorough follow-through.
A Year of InSites: A Focus Group of One
This guest blog post is from LeAnne DeFrancesco, Editorial Director for Vanguard Communications.
Ever been to an ugly sweater party? They seem to be sweeping the nation, inducing mostly laughter, but some uncomfortable situations as well. “Um, these are just my normal clothes,” I heard one party guest say this December, where he sported some reindeer on his zip-up as part of the Christmas theme. Remember the old adage about how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? In this situation, one person’s “fashion tragedy” is another’s “fashion triumph.”
It got me thinking about how we weigh opinions in communications. In a profession filled with niche specialties — be it social marketing, media strategy or creative design — it’s easy to sell your opinions short when asked to respond to an idea or product that falls outside of your traditional area of expertise. This could be because when give your honest feedback, the folks on the receiving end want to know “why” you feel that way. In other words, can you back it up? To avoid having to provide research via an extensive literature review or focus group results, I often start by saying, “Well, this is just my opinion. Take it or leave it.” And that usually gets me off the hook.
Having that fresh perspective that exists outside of a particular realm of communications expertise can add tremendous value to an end-product. You don’t always have to justify the why. All opinions are valid and are based in something legitimate, whether it’s a previous experience, a memory of something somebody said long ago, or just personal instincts. You could be anticipating a potential audience response or recognizing a brand infraction that you can’t quite put your finger on. Products and strategy can only be helped by meaningful discussions among a variety of brains – be they “left” or “right.”
As long as you’re willing to live with the possibility that your feedback won’t be applied, or at least applied to the letter, I say, offer it up!
A Year of InSites: Navigating Relationships Matters in Communications Efforts
This guest blog post comes from Stephanie Dukes, Senior Account Executive and Media Strategist at Vanguard Communications.
The complexities involved in collaborating with people with diverse professional backgrounds have a way of sneaking up on you. As professional communicators, it is our responsibility to sell our strategies effectively. But the issues that often get in the way of effective collaboration between a public relations pro and an executive or employee without a communications mindset may be nuanced and deeply rooted. Personal experiences really shape the way an individual hears what others have to say, so we as communicators should frame our advice in ways that respect the agendas and personal sensitivities of someone coming from a different point of view.
I’m reminded of a real-life situation in which a school district tried to roll out sweeping changes to its curriculum in order to close an achievement gap between diverse student populations. District administrators hosted several Q&A session for parents, but the implied tone was “this is what we’re going to do because we know best. You can ask questions and we’ll answer them, but you’re not really an important part of the process.” The approach resulted in a huge backlash from parents who felt the new curriculum undermined their children’s education. So, they organized a highly publicized protest that sent the curriculum and its creator packing.
I’ve always thought the curriculum wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that administrators didn’t take the time to truly assess their audience and shape their message accordingly.
It’s well worth the time it takes to listen and assess each situation carefully before jumping in with sweeping recommendations on what should happen in terms of effective communications. Our job is to help individuals get their message across to their audience, but those same individuals are part of our audience. We should remember to take our own advice.
A Year of InSites: Successful Efforts Rely on Resourcefulness
While I know 2010 was the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese calendar, it felt more like the Year of the Rooster. Those born in the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Rooster tend to be quick thinkers who are practical and resourceful. During this very busy news year, resourcefulness was a key element to successful campaigns. Being able to identify and utilize appropriate sources for information, news, statistics, policy updates, and other resources helped campaigns achieve their communications goals for the year.
Breaking news stories this year, such as the BP oil spill and midterm election results, impacted ongoing campaigns as well as created new outreach opportunities for new or existing campaigns. What’s more, many of these stories took on new dynamics in real-time, and had additional nuances or complexities depending on the medium in which information was delivered. Relying on just one or two sources for news is limiting.
2010 reinforced that diversifying information resources is key. We should monitor traditional and online news sources, social media channels and pop culture trends to find the next big news angle or outreach opportunity. While tracking many resources may seem to reap more work than rewards, it’s the only way we can keep our outreach efforts whether to the media, policymakers and/or the general public, current, relevant, and effective. To aid your resourcefulness in 2011, use these free online tools to help you keep up with the news and political cycles. They will help you become more proactive and strategically reactive in future campaigns.
Although we are entering the Year of the Rabbit, let’s keep the resourcefulness of the rooster ever present in all the communication work that we do. Forgive me for referencing another saying, but how can we make lemonade in 2011 if we aren’t able to find the lemons?