We love communications and PR folks. They are amazingly creative professionals who can offer value-added services to promote your mission by helping you craft your message to the media, by designing impactful collateral that supports strategic fundraising, by creating infographics that demonstrate complex concepts at a glance, and more. But – and I think my sane communications colleagues would appreciate me saying this – they offer the most value when your organization or initiative has done its homework before hiring them.
So, if your organization or initiative is contemplating hiring a marketing or PR firm to assist in promoting your organization or initiative, here are 5 things I would encourage you to be sure you’ve done first. Trust me, your communications firm will thank you!
1. Ensure You Have Internal Understanding. Does everyone in your organization – board, managers, staff – have shared awareness about the key problem or issue you are addressing? If not, you need to conduct internal conversations about the environment you’re working in and what you’re trying to accomplish. In their excellent book, Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change, Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon offer great advice for how to set up strategic conversations. One of their central premises is that a well-designed strategic conversation should have only one purpose, and that building understanding about a challenge and why it should be addressed must always be the first step in creating strategy. If your board or membership doesn’t agree on what your mandate is, your communications team won’t stand a chance of getting it right.
2. Know How You Make Decisions. How does your organization or team make decisions? Does your organization or initiative have a concentrated approach, with decision-making authority focused in senior leadership, or a more distributed approach, with responsibility for decisions delegated throughout the organization? Who makes the final call on tough decisions? Clarity about the decision-making process leads to greater operational efficiency and buy-in on decisions facing the organization or initiative. If it’s clear that hiring a marketing firm is the right next step, understanding how decisions are made will assist you in getting the approval you need to move the process along more quickly.
3. Prioritize. Even the most efficient teams can’t address more than 3-5 key focus areas. Spend time shaping clear and fully developed options about what is most important for the agency to focus on. These will probably become the three main talking points that you will want to focus on anytime you talk with a reporter, funder or policymaker. Not coincidentally, they are also likely to be the three things that any good marketing professional would want to understand about your initiative.
4. Document your strategy – whether in a short-term work plan or strategic plan. There’s lot of talk lately about the strategic plan being dead. I think the main point is not that we shouldn’t make plans, but that in today’s dynamic environment effective organizations often either a) accomplish everything in a five-year plan in a much shorter timeframe; or b) experience something so dramatic (e.g. funding changes) that they need to reassess a long-term plan completely before the initial window is complete. However, what’s not disputed is that organizations should be documenting their strategy. Whether that’s in the form of a 3-year strategic plan, a one-year work plan, or a six-month project timeline, it’s critically important to be able to share your basic strategic approach with any communications professional you’re planning to hire.
5. You don’t have to know the HOW, but know what you want the marketing effort to DO. Spend some time thinking through how marketing and communications efforts will help support the goals you’ve identified. Same goes for your online and social media presence. As the saying goes, “content without strategy is just stuff.”
A marketing plan doesn’t have to be long, and there’s no reason it needs to be a tightly guarded secret. Here’s WNA’s basic marketing strategy:
WNA’s business purpose is to serve as facilitators and conveners for projects that result in positive social outcomes. Our marketing strategy supports the business goals above through a three-pronged approach:
1) Create a reputation as the premier boutique social sector consulting firm in Austin;
2) Generate new business through enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals; and
3) Create opportunities and platforms to connect with other skilled professionals through formal and informal partnerships.
If you’ve done the five steps above, then you’re ready to proceed with procuring services from a PR or communications firm. If not, spend some time trying to address these issues. At the very least, it will help prepare you for the initial conversation with your communications professional.
Need some help with the steps above? That’s what WNA specializes in. Contact us anytime to set up a consultation.