In our last post, I talked about communications 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 communications objectives.
 
On its face, this sounds simple enough—your communications 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 communications 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 communications plan. A communications 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 communications targets dovetail with the organization’s larger goals. So a communications 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 communications plan vary widely depending on the organization and its needs, but it almost always includes an overview of communications 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 communications 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 communications 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 communications plan, how they’re developed, and how they can be used.

Picture

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!


Picture

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:

  • Invites, RSVPs, reminders, updates, follow-ups
  • Postcards, letters, emails, Q&As, seminar series, slide decks, educational opportunities, volunteer queries

 
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:

  • The person responsible for producing/proofing the content (who’s writing this?)
  • The relevant audience personas (who’s this for?)
  • The content’s destination (where is this going? An email, a blog, a white paper, an ebook?)
  • The relevant workflow and associated notes (is this in-progress, complete, posted?)

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.


Picture

​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:

  • Launches
  • Events
  • Routine touch-point opportunities

 
Unlike regular calendars, an editorial calendar also denotes:

  • The assigned writer and/or editor
  • The relevant audience personas
  • The target channels
  • The relevant workflow elements, especially status and notes

 
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 Gage 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:

  1. Discovery. We meet with the client’s team to discuss in depth their goals and challenges. We review all existing brand materials and related communications or strategic planning documents.
  2. Development and deliverables. We create and present a plan that includes a communications schedule and recommendations for publications as well as an extensive style guide. We can provide training materials or work directly with an organization’s in-house team to ensure that everyone is up to speed. Other deliverables may include updates to existing materials such as web copy and promotional materials, as well as draft content or templates for new materials.
  3. Review. Six months after we present our deliverables, we’ll follow up with a review. This provides the opportunity to discuss continued pain points and solutions.
  4. Continuing support. We provide ongoing support in various capacities, depending on the client’s needs, from communications management to content development and editing.

 
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!
 

Though it’s already February and 2017 has lost its shiny-newness, we’ve got something new that we want to share.
 
Over the last few months, we’ve been building out our business to better serve our best and most interesting clients. We still offer the standard range of communications services—like smart content creation, comprehensive report writing, and efficient on- and offline editing.
 
But now we offer brand strategy integration, too.
 
What is brand strategy integration? It’s a post-strategy service to help you and your team combine new branding materials with existing communications processes. And it can absolutely help you!
 
While the process of developing a new branding strategy is thrilling and all-consuming, we’ve found that broadly implementing that strategy—consistently, straightforwardly, and repetitively—requires active management.
 
So, do you have a fantastic new (or maybe not-so-new) brand? Do you—and your team—have a plan for translating it onto your website, your blog, your presentations, your internal and external reports, and all your other communications portals? Are you wondering how to deliver consistently and every day, over and over again?
 
We can help.
 
Bring us your positioning statements, your key differentiators, and your messaging points! We’ll provide the templates, style guides, content, and training to ensure that everyone on your team knows exactly what happens after your new brand is born.
While the significance of genre may be totally up for grabs in 2016, there’s no doubt that mystery brings certain things to mind: a crime, a circle of motivated suspects, and a whip-smart detective who’s the only one (other than a really astute reader) who can put all the pieces together.
 
So it was with a sigh that I undertook this book club selection, because I am not a mystery reader (or so I told myself—and the book club). I’m not sure what caused this lifelong aversion, except maybe watching too many boring Scooby Doo cartoons (not even protofeminist sleuth Nancy Drew could pique my interest). Lucky for me, Case Histories is not a mystery. At least not a Scooby-Doo kind of mystery.
 
Case Histories resists any formulaic tendencies. Yes, it follows a hard-nosed, hard-living detective, Jackson Brodie, who solves crimes and gets into romantic entanglements. But Brodie is almost a minor character in the book, more the narrative glue that holds the novel’s three intertwined storylines together than the book’s defining personality.
 
For Kate Atkinson fans (and we are big ones), many of the book’s character tropes will be familiar—she clearly has her obsessions. Dead children? Check. Jealous siblings? Check. Ambivalent and unsatisfied mothers? Check. But her characters are so nuanced and fully formed that she avoids the formulaic or repetitive* on this count, too.
 
And while there are moments that Atkinson is clearly inviting readers to try to solve the novel’s three murders, she’s not actually that interested in plotting the details of the crimes (brutal and intriguing as they are). Rather, the despair, rage, guilt, and—maybe surprisingly—exuberant humor and real joy that spin out from the violence of the book’s first 50 pages are what’s really under investigation. Atkinson’s more concerned with how life goes on (or not) for the people the crimes have touched, and what the resolution of those crimes means to those lives.
 
And so, I ended this book club selection as I started it—with a sigh. Not because I didn’t like the book (I really did), but because it’s forced me to rethink a whole new genre. This means adding even more books to a to-read list that’s already too long for me to get through before I die. Maybe my morbid perspective means I’m more suited to mysteries than I realized.
 
*Disclaimer: Other book club members disagree on this point and should not be held accountable for the perspective here espoused. Read multiple Atkinson titles at your own risk.