What are My Communications Needs?

Now more than ever, businesses both large and small need to invest in communications tools, products and qualified staff. In between financials and logistics, communications can sometimes get lost in the mix. What are some of the basic communications tools you need? When do you use them? How can they impact your bottom line? Let’s talk about some of the basics:

1.) Communications plans: Everything needs a plan, right? Putting together communications plans that deal with overall strategic and specific goals is critical not only to help guide your day-to-day communications/p.r. efforts, but can be useful to show potential investors and consultants for more investment and better feedback. I’ll do a more in-depth separate blog post on communications plans, but all good plans include: an executive summary, background, situational analysis, a clearly identified goal(s), key publics, strategies, tactics, evaluations, calendars, budgets and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses. You should also put a plan in place that instructs staff on how to handle crisis situations (more on that later).

2.) Press releases: Here’s where you get to announce what you’re doing, or your organization/business’ opinion on a topic relevant to you. Distribute them among your contacts, current and potential clients, as well as media lists you can create using these helpful information dissemination/marketing services: Constant Cotact, Vocus and Hubspot. All press release must have “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” at the top left of the page in bold, with the date underneath. On the top right, place a contact person’s name, underneath that a telephone number, and underneath that an e-mail. The body of the press release has a centered title, with five body paragraphs. Before the beginning of the first body paragraph, insert the city in which the event or subject mentioned in the press release is taking place, and two dashes, i.e. WASHINGTON — .The first paragraph is a general summary of the press releases’ content, and the rest alternate between hard facts and quotes from relevant people (i.e., what your CEO thinks about the new tax law that will allow for more business opportunities). Always check your grammar and clarity of writing. At the bottom, place your company’s boilerplate (several sentence summary of your organization) under three hash tags: ###.

3.) Statements: Statements follow the same template as press releases, but the entire five (or more) paragraphs is one large quote from the organization, the head of the organization, or the person most relevant to the statement’s topic (i.e., the CEO of PepsiCo issuing a statement on how Pepsi will continue to provide quality products in the face of recalls).

4.) Op-eds: Short for “opposite the editorial page”, but often mistaken for “opinion editorials”, op-eds are places to make an argument critical to your point of view or business needs. Five paragraphs in length, the writer should begin each paragraph with an objective fact (i.e., more than 50% of high school seniors don’t graduate), followed by a subjective assertion (i.e., poor education will be the downfall of our country, which is why Student First is dedicated to education reform, etc.) Be sure to insert convincing statistics. Submit to national and local publications as per their op-ed guidelines, often found on their website. This is an example of “earned media”, and can be a very powerful publicity tool as well as establish the author/organization as a thought leader on his or her subject matter.

5.) LTEs: Short for letter to the editor, these are typically 150 word responses to a paper’s op-ed or article that you either support or disagree with. Another example of earned media, this gathers more publicity  and control over the “war of ideas”. Be short, pithy and refer to the article or op-ed title and author, as well as initial publication date and location in the paper (i.e., A4, or Business section). Show why you agree or disagree, and why your opinion is most relevant (disagree with a new immigration policy and you’re a top immigration attorney? you have a good shot of being published). As with op-eds, LTEs should be submitted within one week of the initial article’s publishing date.

6.) Press kits: A press kit is a great “get to us know” tool that organizations can use to better communicate their mission and values. Media will often ask for them when trying to learn more about you in a concise amount of time. Include a fact sheet (type of industry, number of employees, places of operation, etc.) FAQs (frequently asked questions), most recent press releases and statements, executive bios, recent sales reports, etc. Anything that will help an outsider learn about your organization and position you in a positive light. If media requests one, give it to them promptly. If they’re using it to write a story about you or your industry, they’re on a deadline and will appreciate the courtesy.

7.) Social Media: Did you know that Twitter grew by 1,382% in the last 12 months? Using social media to promote your business or organization is no longer an option — it’s a necessity. Create a Twitter and Facebook account for your organization. Interact with your followers consistently by providing them with information about your product, and helpful information about your industry in general to position yourself as a thought leader. Actively engage with your audience by asking thoughtful questions (which can also provide you with great psychographic and demographic data to better tailor your messaging and products). Reach out to your networks and ask them to like your social media profiles. If you are a useful source of information, they will advise their friends to follow you, retweet you, etc. so know your audience and their needs. Always behave courteously with your followers, even if bad comments are directed your way. Retweeting, mentioning partners or linking to fellow thought leader’s websites can create goodwill and reciprocal marketing.

8.) E-Blasts: Created on your company’s branded template, these e-mail messages are short, visually appealing, and link to an important event or message. For example, “Donate $10 today and ensure a more humane future for our nation’s abused animals. Support the ASPCA.” Send out to your contacts and supporters.

Basic tips: Don’t overwhelm  people with information. Be strategic, know your audience, and use these tools to prove your status a thought leader, industry insider, manufacturer of a good product, deliverer of a quality service, etc. Use them to promote your business, expand your network and establish your place in the sphere of ideas and information.

Depending on your industry and capabilities, some of the above mentioned tools may not be a good fit for you. See what works, and what doesn’t. Good luck!