The worst shop I was ever involved with was never able to produce clear communications because it was never clear about what direction it was going in and what role its communications team was supposed to play. People were shifted around and out so much that any hope for chance of any consistent message was completely lost. Long after I left, they were continuing to churn chaos and struggle to define who they were and what they had to say.
It was not a fun time. But I learned a few things.
The number one reason organizations struggle to distinguish themselves is because they are not clear about whom they are talking to and why.
The number one reason they think they are not standing out in the crowd is because they don’t have the right people.
Result: really good people get chewed up and tossed aside because the direction was never clear to begin with.
Solution: know who your audience is first, and then hire the right communications team to target it.
Consumer brands—think Nike– spend millions of dollars identifying the finely tilled niche of the marketplace that their products will most appeal to. And then they go after them.
Be like Nike.
3+1 ways to start:
Hire to produce the outcome, not the vehicle you think will get you there
This sadly happens all the time. Look at any job description for a communications expert and it will be filled with deliverables the communicator will be tasked to produce—i.e., newsletter, website, etc.—and not who these items are supposed to be created for. If your target audience is best reached through social media, don’t insist your new hire develop a complex email campaign. Hire the communicator with a proven track record of targeting the market you are most interested in and then trust them to know the best way to do that.
Hire the writer you need; not the one who most impresses you.
I watched from the sidelines while an organization hired a writer whose portfolio included a few pieces from the New York Times and even a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. How impressive is that?! Trouble was, all those kudos were for writing about one topic and the organization focused on another topic only slightly related. Bottom line: all writers can write, but not all writers can write well about all things. You need to know what you need first, and hire for what you need
Do you need a strategist or a writer? Do you know the difference?
Sometimes you need to have an entire plan created so you can reach the audience you want to reach. If you know who that audience is—i.e., millennial alumni, or donors with giving capacity of $1M and above—then look for the communications strategist who has shown success 1) at reaching that exact audience or 2) shown success at reaching a clearly defined audience and so can likely determine how to reach the one you want. (Look for a future post on what questions to ask to hire the best communications strategist for you.) Your strategist will come up with the plan; she might then hire the writer to write major chunks of the plan.
One last thing: Let the writer write.
Writing by committee has killed more good communications vehicles than bad grammar or typos combined. We’re all smart people. Let’s accept that. But not everyone is a good writer. But that doesn’t stop every person in your organization from believing that their idea and their way to turn a phrase is the best. Put a lot of people together to review a written communication, and every single person will want to change something. What you end up with is a boiled down boring piece of writing that offends no one but excites no one either.
Final piece of advice on this post: hire good communications people and then get out of their way and let them do their work. Trust them. They’ll deliver for you.