Monday, May 26, 2008

Know Your Audience

In their May 08 newsletter, BurrellsLuce explores the current state of the generation gap – and how that gap can, and should, impact our communications efforts.

The fundamental question for those responsible for their organization's communications, is how best to communicate your organization's message across a multi-generational audience? Since each generation has formed with different shared values and communication preferences, what's the right way to make your message resonate across the generation gap?

[photo credit: joi]

The first step is to understand what seminal experiences each generation has shared. Although different sources list them with slight variations, the following generalizations are fairly common and are used in the BurrellsLuce newsletter:
  • Traditionalists (born before 1946) — lived through the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and the Korean War.

  • Boomers (1947 to 1964) — experienced the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, space travel, and assassinations.

  • Generation X (1965 to 1976) — dealt with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Watergate, women's liberation, Desert Storm, and the energy crisis.

  • Millennial (1977 to 1989) — grew up during a time of school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, technology, and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

With this information in hand, the next step is to evaluate what core belief each group shares. Again, these are taken from the BurrellesLuce article, but they are widely accepted:

Traditionalists Boomers Xers Millennial
Hard work Optimism Diversity Optimism
Dedication and sacrifice Team orientation Techno literacy Civic duty
Respect for rules Personal gratification Fun and informality Confident
Duty before pleasure Involvement Self-reliance Achievement oriented
Honor Personal growth Pragmatism Respect for diversity
Your core donors probably fall into just one of the four groups listed above. It's dangerous, though, to assume that you only need to talk to that group to achieve your goals. We're all aging. Your organization needs to reach out to younger generations now – to build relationships that will develop those young people into donors, board leaders, and policy advocates over time.

Reaching across generations requires that you understand the demographics of your supporter base as it currently stands, and understand how you want those demographics to evolve over time. You'll also need to understand how each group gets their information.

If you typically communicate with Boomers – who tend to view themselves as team players – remember that Millennials tend to see themselves as confident individuals. To reach them, your organization might need to consider adjusting its "boilerplate" messaging – or consider crafting a series of messages that can be used when targeting specific audiences.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Creating Conversations

Many organizations have experimented with various social technologies, ranging from maintaining blogs to setting up profiles on popular social networking sites. The most successful of these efforts were originally designed as part of an ongoing effort to create a constant, two-way conversation between the organization and its constituents. The technology is merely a vehicle for that conversation, the conversation itself is the objective.

photo credit: Dano

The key is to ensure the conversation clearly connects to the organization’s larger objectives. Any conversation that occurs in a vacuum, whether online or off, simply isn’t sustainable. A generally accepted way to design a successful online social strategy is the “POST” method pioneered by Forrester Research. POST is an acronym for “People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology” and it outlines the order in which organizations should build their online social strategy.

How do the people that your organization is trying to reach use technology? Are they already using Facebook and MySpace? Have they discovered Twitter? Are they joining groups online? Do they rely more heavily on email and listservs? What is changing about their behavior?
Task: Design, distribute and analyze a survey to gather information about the online habits of your organization's target audiences.

Given how your audiences use technology, what are your organization's objectives for implementing a social technology strategy? In general, Web 2.0 technologies allow organizations to more efficiently and effectively listen to their existing constituents, talk to new constituents, and energize and support existing constituents and staff.
Task: Articulate both the short-term and long-term objectives that your organization is trying to achieve through this effort. Assign measurable goals to each stated objective.

After identifying your objectives, what is your strategy to achieve them? A deep understanding of which Web 2.0 technologies and approaches work for which objectives is the best place to start.
Task: Explore and evaluate existing technologies such as MySpace, Facebook, blogging software, listservs, online groups, and others. Map the strengths and weaknesses of each relative to your stated goals and available resources.

Once the other steps are done, then your organization will be able to focus on which technologies to use, and how to structure the implementation of each technology option.
Task: Choose those technologies which are most likely to help your organization achieve its stated objectives. Determine tasks, agree to timelines, and assign responsibilities.

Once complete, your organization's social networking strategy will help create an online arena for people to ask and answer questions, share their stories, and find support. It will help position your organization as a trusted resource, and handy reference. It will also help position your organizations as a technologically savvy, state-of-the art institution.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Cluetrain Manifesto - 10 Years Later

The Cluetrain Manifesto was the first inkling of the brave new world of online, open, transparent conversations between companies and consumers. And it predicted that those companies that got a clue sooner rather than later would benefit dramatically from doing so.

Ten years after it was first published, its message is still just as timely. Two great quotes that sum up the thesis of the book are:
"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."
“The long silence — the industrial interruption of the human conversation — is coming to an end. On the Internet, markets are getting more connected and more powerfully vocal every day. These markets want to talk, just as they did for the thousands of years that passed before market became a verb with us as its object.”

Sally Falkow makes the connection to the world of PR in her recent post:

"the Net certainly has changed that situation in the last ten years. As PR people you’d think we’d be the first ones to get this clue. After all, PR is about communication and conversations... Better late than never. Don’t let another ten years go by. This is the core of PR today. Get the clue and get on board."
If you haven't read the book, it's time. Don't let another 10 years go by before you get the clue.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How Do You Get Your News?

I get my news from a lot of places. Every day I watch 3 different newscasts, I listen to 4 news radio shows, and I read more print news in more publications than I can count.

But something has changed over the past several years. I watch, listen to and read the news on my own time, in my own way. I've quietly shifted my media consumption to match my own needs, and I'm not alone.

[photo credit: Pingu1963]

I used to listen to NPR's All Things Considered every morning, but now I download NPR's The Bryant Park Project and WNYC's The Takeaway instead
- not because the information is better or more interesting (although the content is clearly geared towards a younger audience), but because they're delivered as podcasts and I can listen to them on my own time. I used to watch morning and evening national broadcast TV news shows, but now I record them and watch them when I have time - sometimes not even on the day they were broadcast. I used to receive and read a stack of newspapers every morning, now I scan through my RSS reader to check for headlines that are relevant to me from more than 300 different sources.

And, despite all of that, I get most of my breaking news from Twitter and Facebook. At the end of the day (figuratively speaking), I rely on my social network - people who share my interests - to keep me informed as the media and information landscape changes throughout the day.

The reason all this matters is that regular publicity efforts haven't kept pace with all of these changes. Your organization is as likely to make headlines by maintaining a relevant twitter feed as it is by sending out press releases to a list of reporters in Cision. Sending an alert to your organization's Facebook group is as likely to generate attention as scheduling a press conference.

How are your donors and supporters receiving their news and information these days? Has it changed? Are there new ways to reach them that you haven't explored? When was the last time you asked them? When was the last time you asked your own staff how they get their news. You might be surprised by what you hear.

Monday, May 12, 2008

2008 SPIN Academy Applications Open

The applications for this year's SPIN Academy are now open. This year's SPIN Academy will take place August 13-17 in Petaluma, CA.

The SPIN Academy, the SPIN Project's signature training conference, is a residential retreat that offers progressive leaders affordable, comprehensive communications training and support. The Academy helps organizations dedicated to social change become more media-savvy. It is ideal for activists new to communications who work regularly with the media and want to improve the progressive movement. The training includes:

  • Strategic communications planning
  • Organizational capacity building through improved communications
  • Communications leadership growth and networking
  • Practical communications tactics and skills

Experienced Academy trainers lead more than 15 workshops. Participants meet one-on-one with expert consultants, build individual media strategies and receive valuable resources to support their ongoing work, including the Train the Trainers Kit to help participants lead media trainings of their own.

Participants develop cross-movement relationships with other activists faced with the challenge of earning media attentions for progressive issues. This forms a deeper understanding of the connection between strategic communications and the success of progressive movements.

For more information, visit
For other questions, contact

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Perfect Pitch

To get great media coverage, it's not enough just to write a press release, send it out to the media, and then wait for reporters to call. While that might work for regular news makers like Facebook, or the Federal Reserve, most organizations will need to also craft a press pitch and send it out to reporters one by one.

A pitch is a short, targeted message designed to get a specific reporter interested in what you have to say. Its purpose is to open the door to a more detailed conversation by piquing curiosity. It's like an appetizer that arrives before the main course.

[photo credit: flyfshrmn98]

Since each pitch will need to be tailored to each individual reporter, your press list is a critical part of the pitch process. Who is currently writing about your sector? Which reporters have covered your organization before? Focus on 5 - 7 critical reporters and begin to craft a pitch letter for each.

A good pitch answers 5 critical questions that a reporter is bound to have:
  1. Who the heck are you?
    A pitch is a personal communication. It's a personalized message sent from you to a unique reporter. If they don't know you already, you need to give them a reason to read your message. Were you given their contact information by a mutual friend? Were you impressed by a story they wrote recently on a similar topic? Why are you contacting them instead of someone else? Make it personal, and make it relevant. If you don't have any way to tie your message in to this specific reporter, they're probably not the right person to receive your pitch.

  2. Why the heck should I care about what you have to say?
    Reporters only care about stories that will interest their regular readers. If you can't directly tie your story to their audience, move on. If your story doesn't bring a new twist or angle to a topic that their audience already knows a lot about, move on. If you can't give them something they couldn't find anywhere else, move on. Your job is to make their job easier. If you can't do that, move on.

  3. What is this all about?
    Boil your entire story down to the briefest possible description. Try to express your entire story in two sentences. Three at the most. Give enough of a taste of the story to get your point across, without going into the detail provided by your press release.

  4. Does anybody else care about this story?
    If your story has already gotten some press, don't be shy about noting prior coverage. Success breeds success. Letting the reporter know that others have found this story interesting might help tip the scales as they decide whether or not to cover your story. A word of caution though: if your story is old news, a reporter is unlikely to be interested in re-hashing it. Highlight coverage that doesn't overlap with the reporter's audience, or that demonstrates your organization has experience working with the media.

  5. How do I find out more?
    Be specific about how the reporter can contact you or find out additional information on their own. Include your direct phone number and email address, and suggest some times or days within the next week or two that are open on your calendar. Include a link to your organization's online press kit (if you have one).
Just like in baseball, great pitching takes lots of practice and lots of effort. If it gets your organization more coverage, though, it's well worth it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who's Your Messenger?

When you communicate with people who are interested in your organization and it's cause - who do you use to deliver your message?

[photo credit: blmurch]

If you're like most organizations, most of your communications sound something like this – "We'd like you to know about X" or "We were able to accomplish Y." Why not let those who benefit most directly deliver your message in their own voice?

Katya Andresen wrote today about making room for the "unlikely yet completely authentic messengers for an important cause" – those who are directly impacted by it. One of her blog's readers went on to make this important point:
When citizens own, operate, and market to other citizens, the cause becomes rooted in the community at a level of connectivity that makes it more likely to succeed and grow.
Did your last communication include any room for your organization's message to be delivered in the first person? Is there a section in your newsletter reserved for testimonials? Have you ever asked people to submit their own stories about how they've been impacted by your organization?

Who better to tell your organization's story than someone who knows first-hand how important your work is – precisely because it's made a difference in their lives.