Let’s not bury the lede: Are you author material? Maybe!
Business leaders and other expert professionals are increasingly inspired to try their hand at authorship. And, as we discussed in our last post, writing a book can be a great idea. Sure, it’s an excellent marketing tool, but more than that, the work of writing a book crystallizes and activates an author’s ideas. It puts an author in conversation with a limitless audience of readers in real and exciting ways.
But writing a book isn’t easy. It usually requires a combination of creativity, determination, persistence, and time management.
At MWS, we support leaders through this process. But first, we ask our clients if they’re ready to become authors. Our vetting process is tough—we’ve learned that not everyone who wants to claim authorship credit is ready for the investment in time, brain space, and, of course, money.
Our best authors are leaders who hit three marks:
Well, not always.
Let’s take it from the top. A book is an exceptional marketing tool, but it’s neither successful nor particularly useful if its message is buy! buy! buy! Good books are written by authors who have something to say—something that can’t just be said over a power lunch (or a PowerPoint)—not just something to sell.
Second, authors need to know why they're writing a book. Many aspiring authors cite the book itself as the goal, but we’ve found that this is not particularly sustainable. The investment in writing a book is just too big for the book (and only the book) to be a meaningful incentive. Instead, good books are written by authors with bigger, more specific goals in mind—they want to substantiate their legitimacy by showcasing their knowledge, or they’re ready to tell their secrets in the service of launching a new product or company, or they have a story they want to tell to very specific audiences, or something else (specific and achievable).
Third, writing a great book takes time. Authors of good books have patience for the process. They know that starting with a compelling idea and ending with a smart, persuasive book in hand takes 28 weeks or longer.
Ultimately, becoming an author in business and leadership categories is an achievable dream. Do your research, and then position yourself to benefit from professionals who can support you on the path to publication.
But books are hard to write.
Books aren’t dead—hooray! But writing a book is still really hard. Despite technology’s inexorable advance, creating a book still calls to mind deeply solitary work—completed in a room of one’s own—and a superhuman ability to conjure up a world using only words.
That effort is still very real, but today, the author category includes a few more entrants. At MWS, we’ve seen an uptick in authors whose first calling isn’t books but business. These are thought leaders who want to write a book to develop ideas, communicate secrets, explain the stories that helped bring about their success, and establish a longer, more meaningful relationship with readers, clients, and colleagues.
For these authors, books function as a long-form (a very long form) business card. A book communicates a seriousness of passion, but it also displays depth of thought. A book can help communicate—by its very existence—a major commitment.
Over the past year, we’ve fielded queries from new entrepreneurs who want a book to substantiate legitimacy, from professionals poised to make late-in-life career shifts who need a book as a claim to belonging, and from authors who want to develop ideas into something that will sustain a series of speaking engagements.
These authors reach out to us because they don’t always have all the tools—for generating ideas, producing polished researched writing, facilitating publication, establishing distribution, creating a marketing plan, or repurposing book content—to produce a successful book.
Our work with these clients has given us some insight into the writers who are ready to become authors and the writers who aren't. In our next post, we’ll explain some of the differences between the two.
In our last post, I talked about communication plans, what they are, and why we create them for clients. Just to sum up: we adore them, and you should to.
We've talked elsewhere about some of the components I mentioned, namely editorial calendars, style guides, and process charts. In this post, I'm going to focus on another component that we always include in a plan, which is an overview of communication objectives.
On its face, this sounds simple enough—your communication objectives should explain the goals of your communication. Why does your organization put out there whatever it puts out there? What drives the communication? What do you want the end result of the communication to be?
But the challenge is to make the objectives specific and descriptive enough to be useful. If you're a business trying to reach potential new clients, whom are you targeting, and why? If you're a nonprofit looking to expand community partnerships and volunteerism, what specific needs will these partnerships and volunteers fill?
It's worth it to spend the time to create a detailed landscape of your communication objectives, especially as part of a larger strategic plan. Honing in on specific objectives (which should entail specific target audiences and desired outcomes) means that you're more likely to be able to realize those objectives than you are if those objectives remain nebulous.
Specifically articulated objectives translate seamlessly to direct action.
For example, increasing awareness about your organization's mission is a valuable and important objective for any nonprofit. But increasing awareness can look a million different ways, which renders it almost meaningless, rather than clarifying—and paralyzing, rather than galvanizing. But increasing awareness among key state legislators who could serve as potential advocates for a specific aspect of your organization's mission? That entails clear action that makes it a million times easier to realize.
When we work with clients in our capacity as consultants, one of the things we often create is a communication plan. A communication plan addresses all the communications that an organization produces and lays out a comprehensive approach to providing stakeholders with information.
A well-crafted plan defines who should be given what information, by whom, when, and through which channels. Ideally (though not necessarily), it's crafted as part of a long-term strategic planning process, to ensure that communication targets dovetail with the organization's larger goals. So a communication plan serves to not only codify, but also streamline and improve the efficacy of an organization's communications processes.
It's a game changer.
The components of a communication plan vary widely depending on the organization and its needs, but it almost always includes an overview of communication objectives, target audiences, and desired outcomes; a parsing of communications by channel (e.g., electronic publications such as newsletters or blog posts, print publications, and even events and in-person communication); an editorial calendar that can be developed and managed in-house; and recommendations for improving content and workflow (sometimes including a style guide or process chart).
A good communication plan shows you where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. For organizations where internal communications resources are stretched thin, or for those where communication processes are decentralized and difficult to coordinate, this sort of comprehensive picture is really, really invaluable.
Look out for future posts detailing the various components of a communication plan, how they're developed, and how they can be used.
It’s a terrible, terrible pun, and I’m sorry I made it.
But sometimes a cliché is overused because it’s apt.
Going with the flow in this case means going with the flowchart. Like an editorial calendar, a flowchart is a surprisingly integral, useful tool for coordinating communications. It gives both a bird’s-eye view of and a step-by-step guide for a variety of processes.
Flowcharts are incredibly useful, totally illuminating, and delightfully easy to make, but they aren’t used very often.
Maybe it’s because, as with the editorial calendar, they feel unnecessary. Or obvious. Or intuitive. Or irrelevant.
But flowcharts shouldn’t be taken for granted. They should be considered a valuable addition to organizational (or communications-specific) agendas.
We recently created a flowchart to help us help a recent client. We needed the chart to better understand our client’s workflow—who produced what, when, and for whom?—but we saw that our client would also benefit from the chart’s big-picture sequencing of their communications protocol.
Flowcharts are obviously useful when integrating new efforts—like new touch points—into current communications processes. But they’re also useful for new hires, who need every tool at their disposal to get up to speed, and for workhorse veterans, whose knowledge base is often locked up inside the professional experience that manifests as intuition.
Ultimately, flowcharts clarify processes, make information accessible and distributable, and contribute to departmental and even organization-wide efficiency.
So (again, I'm sorry), go with the flow!
In the last post, we talked about editorial calendars and why they promote and inspire efficiency.
Today, let's talk more in-depth.
We’ve already covered the obvious fact that an editorial calendar is part calendar—it includes the cyclical work of reaching out to clients, including launches and events and routine touch-point opportunities.
But the crucial work of the calendar is to provide a space to associate launches, events and routine touch-point opps with relevant content:
And the even more crucial work of the editorial calendar is that it allows—and really demands—a correspondence between content and production. Each calendar includes:
Lots of programs offer editorial calendar templates or plug-ins, but we like Google Sheets and Trello.
Google Sheets is easy, intuitive for the average Excel user, and basically universal. (Trello is more aesthetically pleasing [and visual people often claim that it’s easier to use]). But with a little front-end customization, you can ensure your Sheets reflect content, author, audience, etc. at little more than a glance. (We use separate tabs to manage current content, scheduled content, and our ideas for the future, too.)
Whatever medium you choose, any editorial calendar is better than none. With the right denotations and assignments, it makes the hard work of getting stuff done much easier.
Editorial calendars are rather common to write about, but they're rarely used. What is an editorial calendar, and why do you need one?
What is it? An editorial calendar helps you schedule your content production.
Why do you need it? It helps you strategize your content and deliver on your communications.
Our clients juggle a lot of content-related balls: They want to publish or republish white papers; they’re working on e-books; they’re rolling out articles for trade publications; they’re creating new blog posts; they're updating their websites.
They’ve got a lot going on, but they don’t usually have it going on in an editorial calendar.
Maybe “editorial calendar” connotes too much insider knowledge to sound useful to anyone outside of a publishing or marketing team. Maybe it seems unnecessary for (theoretically) easily producible writing-related tasks.
But while content is (sometimes) easy to produce, it’s most definitely not a one-and-done effort. Quality writing is brainstormed, strategized, roughed-out, edited, market-tested, proofread, published, and then republished again (and again).
It requires a lot of (sequential) steps. To make those steps as easy and efficient to execute as possible, use an editorial calendar.
Like regular calendars, an editorial calendar reflects the annual marketing cycles of your business, including:
Unlike regular calendars, an editorial calendar also denotes:
Editorial calendars help businesses get content done. But they do a lot more. An editorial calendar can help you develop content strategy and manage communications. And, as we've said before, all content should be multipurpose content. An editorial calendar makes clear how work already is (and can be further) repurposed.
At MWS, working with cause-driven organizations is one of our passions. In our experience, they face some special challenges in making sure their mission is both concisely formulated and diffused throughout their communications. The Firefly Sisterhood is one organization we've worked with to lay some important groundwork for this kind of mission execution.
The Firefly Sisterhood is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a mission to foster one-to-one connections between women recently diagnosed with breast cancer and inspirational survivors. As a fledgling organization, Firefly worked with an agency to develop the organization's message and brand identity. But they didn't have the in-house resources to really bring those materials to life.
"One of the things that organizations struggle with is consistently using the right language to talk about what they do," said Kris Newcomer, executive director of Firefly. This can be especially fraught for organizations that, like the Firefly Sisterhood, deal with difficult or sensitive issues.
But the challenge that Newcomer faced in integrating their brand is one that organizations of all sizes have to manage.
For larger organizations, it's a matter of providing the communications team with the training and materials necessary to get everyone up to speed. Smaller organizations without a dedicated communications staff often benefit from more direct support.
Newcomer's priority was to develop Firefly’s blog, along with other communications materials, in line with their new brand strategy. For the emergent organization, the blog was an important place to establish a trusted voice and demonstrate leadership in the cancer support community.
After reviewing Firefly's brand strategy and discussing their goals with Kris and her team, MWS created a series of blog posts to help Firefly institute a publication schedule and to provide templates for a variety of approaches they could take for future posts.
From personal interviews and profiles, to researched pieces, to advice and how-to's, our white-branded posts—often reposted by other local and national organizations—built out a voice that resonated with Firefly’s audience and drove traffic to their website.
One post that resonated with Kris and with the blog's readers tackled the importance of language head-on. In a discussion on Firefly's Facebook page, people had been chiming in with some strong opinions about their preference for (or aversion to) terms such as "survivor," "victim," and "battle" when it comes to the experience of having cancer. The debate inspired us to research and write a post about how the language that patients and caregivers use to talk about cancer has a serious impact on patients' lives and health.
"I loved that post because it really spoke to the kind of care we were taking in developing our own vocabulary as an organization. It was a great example of how your work gave us a guide for how to present ourselves through our blog," Kris reported.
This year to date Firefly has already served over 130 new clients, and they're on track to triple the capacity they started with in 2014, in part by expanding their connections with women in a wider range of language and cultural communities. We've been thrilled to watch them grow and bring their remarkable mission to life for so many women.
We’ve all been there (well, maybe not actually there): You ask a question, your question is misinterpreted, you respond with clarification, but that, too, goes astray. You give up feeling like your original question wasn’t fully answered, and you’re more confused than you were before you asked it.
It’s a problem as old as conversation. But it’s more frequent now that so much of our professional communication takes place over email, text, or messenger services like Slack.
We all know the basics for writing answerable emails: Make it personal (but not too personal); keep it short (but not too short); ask for what you want (and make sure what you want is do-able).
But what happens when you follow the rules and still end up in a communication rabbit hole? It happens to all of us—in fact, it just happened to me on Slack.
Why do our messages go astray? Usually because we're vague, we forget our audience, or we don’t loop in the right people (or we loop in too many wrong people)
In my situation, I wrote a vague message to the wrong person. I got a sharply worded reply that immediately put me on the defensive. Prompted by Slack’s slick, immediate interface, I replied too quickly when I should have pulled back to figure out where I went wrong.
Learn from my mistakes, especially if you interact in a lot of ways with different clients, colleagues, and assorted professionals.
In addition to making it personal, keeping it short, and asking for what you want, be direct and explicit in your ask, remind yourself who you’re speaking with (and keep it relatively formal), and be sure you’re speaking with the person who can help.
And, if all else fails, pick up the phone. I did. And I found that what I’ve secretly suspected is true: Sometimes a human voice is better and more efficient than anything technology can offer.
As Molly noted in her last post, one of the signature services we now offer at MWS is brand strategy integration. Yep, it's a mouthful—but it's really quite a simple concept. Here's a closer look at what it means, and what it looks like in action.
Everyone knows how important it is to develop a solid brand. But often once a brand has been created or reimagined, it just…sits there. A new logo and list of key differentiators can only do so much, even if an organization has committed to a top-notch branding effort. Once the excitement of the branding process wears off, figuring out who communicates what (and when and how) in line with a new brand is challenging.
MWS supplies the crucial link between brand strategy and brand execution. We integrate your brand into your communications processes and materials, and we ensure that your team can communicate your brand effectively and efficiently, too.
When we work with clients who are looking for comprehensive brand strategy integration, the process typically has several steps:
We're passionate about helping organizations connect with their audience, and brand strategy integration is an excellent tool for accomplishing that goal. Questions about how it might work for you? Let us know!
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mama to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mama to three troublemakers.