Archive for the ‘communications planning’ Category


Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Sometimes really smart people say really dumb things. We got a perfect  example yesterday courtesy of Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra.

Appearing before the Commons Transport Committee to explain the corporation’s decision to eliminate home delivery, the head of Canada Post made a comment about seniors that showcased about the same tonal acuity as Marie-Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”.

Asked to explain how the cancellation of home mail delivery would affect seniors, Chopra replied that seniors had told the corporation that they wanted more fresh air and exercise in their lives. In other words, opined the Canada Post supremo, this was good news.

Any reporter covering the committee who had been wondering what the story from the daylong proceedings would be, had their answer when Chopra finished suggesting that seniors welcomed the end of home delivery because of the healthier lifestyle choices that would follow in its wake.

In addition to painting the corporation as woefully out of touch, Chopra’s unfortunate framing had the effect of burying Canada Post’s overall narrative and the business rationale for its decision at the bottom of the story.

But what became an embarrassing soundbite and headline for Canada Post and Chopra, could easily have been avoided–and that’s the takeaway–with a little preparation and a little humility.

It’s likely that having an emergency Transport committee hearing called after the House had risen caught the corporation a little flat-footed and contributed to a less-than-stellar public relations effort. But questions about the impact of the elimination of home delivery on seniors and people with disabilities were totally predictable and the Corporation’s public affairs staff should have prepared an appropriate Qs & As strategy as part of the CEO’s briefing.

There’s no doubt that “how will seniors get their mail”, is a tough question for a PR team to nail, particularly when you’re on the hot seat and your organization has yet to work out a credible answer.   But the better part of valour truly is discretion, and in this case it should have meant avoiding disingenuous answers.

In prepping Mr. Chopra for his committee appearance,  the Canada Post PR team should have done two things. First, they should have tried to put some bedrock under their answers by leveraging the long transition period before home delivery is abolished as the foundation for their messaging. Second, they should have advised their CEO that his demeanour had to balance decisiveness and humility;  that he would have to acknowledge that Canada Post had no ready-made answer to that particular question, and tell the Committee that the lengthy transition would allow for the fine-tuning of the corporate plan, and that he was committed to finding a solution.

Such an answer might not have made opposition politicians (or the boss) happy, but sometimes when you’re in corporate communications and are called in at the last minute to put a golden sheen on whatever the C-suite has hatched,  you just need to buy some time for yourself and for the organization. In those circumstances, it’s less about being a hero and  more about surviving to fight another day.

Had the Canada Post brass adopted that approach to their committee appearance yesterday, Mr. Chopra might not be seen today as the man with all the answers, but neither would he be the poster boy for monopolistic arrogance.


Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Every day, in organizations of all types and sizes,  programs are designed, products launched and campaigns kicked-off without a clear story to support them–and predictably, the results are often forgettable.

The good news is that more and more communications and marketing departments are developing storylines to provide some narrative grounding to key corporate activities.

The bad news is not only that the storyline remains a poorly understood communications concept with the result that many of these are so focused on corporate spin that they read like works of fiction, but that organizations will often mistake their own PR for reality.

Developing the narrative around an event, product, or initiative is more than a writing exercise—it should be seen as an exercise not just in strategic communications, but in strategic planning.

At InterChange Public Affairs, our approach to storyline development revolves around working through a facilitated process to ensure that our clients’ narrative will not only resonate with all of their key audiences, but that their project will meet their strategic goals.

Our approach to storyline development is part SWOT  (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, part journalism and part PR.

In all instances–but most importantly in the case of public events–we start by getting to and understanding the real story behind an initiative, and then framing our client’s narrative in the most objective and newsworthy fashion.

Depending on the complexity of the project, we typically develop two or more storylines. The first version–what we call the inside story–is rarely seen outside the boardroom.

When working on the inside story, we see our role much like that of a hard-nosed print reporter. We work with our client to answer the five Ws of journalistic writing (Who, What, Where, When and Why) to tease out positive storyline elements, and ask the tough questions to get at the problem areas. Our goal is to give our clients an advance look at how their story is going to read in the morning paper.

While this can make for uncomfortable conversations with the client,  it also results in a better appreciation of the communications and other challenges that may exist with their project and provides them with an opportunity to make the tactical and strategic adjustments needed for a successful announcement or campaign launch.

For a final product, we strive for a one page journalistic-style story that highlights the newsworthy and fresh, while framing in the most positive light any issues that could not be worked out through the earlier process.

This type of storyline can be readily adapted to produce core communications products such as news releases, key messages and media lines, while providing the outline and narrative structure for everything from op-eds, to speaking notes and speech modules.

In addition to generating a compelling external narrative, an additional benefit of this approach to storyline development is that it helps organizations clarify and address strategic and tactical problems and priorities.

We have had cases where clients decided to re-think and re-design a campaign because they realized that it just wasn’t ready for prime time. Or conversely, what had been seen as a negative corporate  announcement morphed into a good news story after working through its various (and sometimes subtle) storyline elements.

By taking what is most often viewed as an abstract writing exercise and translating it into a strategic communications effort, this approach to storyline development helps reveal potential opportunities and challenges that might otherwise have been overlooked in the initial planning process.


Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For any organization  looking to build its online presence, the networking and socialization should begin from within, and start at the top.

An interesting study released last spring by Austin-based PulsePoint Group, illustrates the importance of the “C-suite” in fostering organizational buy-in and excellence in social media use and engagement.  Notably, it found that:

  • Two-thirds of the  organizations  achieving the highest returns reported that their  C-suites are active advocates– that is, they commit to social engagement  as a strategy and they reallocate resources to make it happen.
  • However,  a full 28% of C-suite executives still don’t believe in social  engagement. And the number one reason? The inability to gauge ROI (45%).  For engagement to work, the C-suite has to believe in it and see  measurable returns.

For an organization exploring social media as a way to connect with its clients or audiences, the place to begin should always be with its employees and associates and the initial pitch should be made by the boss.

Enlisting your employees to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and a large ready-made community of interest, and  synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and message. It  serves to bolster internal communications and create an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership of a new strategy.  It  also helps staff internalize and articulate the key organizational values, ethics and goals that make up your corporate brand.

This exercise can be formal or informal. Anything from training workshops to “lunch and learn” sessions will do as long as these provide the time and space to freely discuss the organization’s social media strategy and policies,  its benefits and costs, and everyone’s role in its implementation.   The most important point of these sessions is that they are opportunities for the organization’s leadership to share and discuss their goals and vision for the organization, how social media can help achieving these and explain how employees and other associates are key to achieving those goals.

In any hierarchical organization, a disconnect from the corporate leadership can cause uncertainty among the rank and file, stifling initiative and lead to a fallback to the safety of the status-quo. In a rapidly eveolving and competitive  environment, this can cause a brand to sputter and fail. And while in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, in a communications environment where your audience becomes your medium, engagement and conversations must be the norm.

Making an organization’s chief executives its evangelists-in-chief and the face of online engagement will send a powerful and empowering message  to its employees.  Effective online social engagement is all about the capacity to engage and converse based on genuine caring about your community. A corporate social media strategy that begins from within, serves to empower employee engagement as brand ambassadors by bringing them into the corporate loop and recognizing the importance of their participation.

Effective social media engagement  requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication.  A critical part of this approach must involve bringing the c-suite and all employees into the social fold, and into the conversation–internally and externally.


Friday, March 30th, 2012

In an earlier blog, I wrote that social media can transform how organizations operate. One important way it can do that is in helping create mainstream media (MSM) buzz in support of their brand. For any organization, this involves taking advantage of a changing media landscape which is characterized by: 1) a growing MSM online presence; 2) changing news cycle; and 3) reporters’ growing reliance on social media channels for story ideas, breaking news, background and fresh voices.

Today, not only is real-time monitoring of social media chatter a must for news organizations, but traditional media organizations have begun using all of the tools in the social media toolkit to maintain market share and relevance.   Strategies such as search engine optimization of stories, social amplification, and increased use of shareability-enhancing video, are being used by MSM to leverage social media traffic and influence and push their own online and traditional content.

In response to this changing media environment, organizations that in the past monitored traditional media channels and coverage as part of their environmental scanning, are now turning their attention to the monitoring of media chatter on social platforms.  They are also using social media platforms to engage in conversations with reporters and news outlets, or push out statements, news releases and background information.

The most popular of these platforms is Twitter.Twitter is ideally suited for the real time nature of the modern news cycle. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter has contributed to changing the news cycle.

Before the rise of social media, radio was the medium that provided the greatest flexibility and ability to cover breaking news. Twitter has now outgrown its role as amplifier of mainstream media news to become a “news breaker” as seen in story of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. special forces.

For organizations looking to use social media to enhance their MSM reach, Twitter can provide an important and direct channel to news rooms but it also means competing for attention on what is becoming a very crowded platform.

This means your interactions must be fresh, interesting and newsworthy. And it means building your network and community BEFORE you launch your campaign.  Invest in getting to know editors, reporters and producers.

Tips on using Twitter for MSM relations

  • Use Twitter Search to identify reporters that cover or are interested in your issues and start following them
  • Listen. Use Twitter to learn about specific journalists’ interests, needs, styles
  • Build an early  rapport, engage in conversations, be genuine
  • Respond to queries in a timely fashion
  • Provide value; become a trusted source for information, story ideas
  • Be available for on-the-record comment, including online
  • Use Twitter to inform reporters of upcoming media opportunities (press conferences, product launches)
  • Post your news releases on Twitter
  • Do not use Twitter to pitch your stories directly; paticularly if you have no rapport with a reporter
  • Don’t neglect personal, face-to-face interaction with reporters

Success in this new environment means being nimble  and responsive, and it means understanding the reality of the modern news room: fewer resources and more pressure to break stories. Failure to do so means running the risk of being left behind when your story breaks.

In practical terms, this means all organizations have to take stock of their internal media relations procedures and streamline decision-making.  It  means empowering front-line communications staff to engage with reporters, frame the story and provide comment.

In this new environment, organizations–private or public–no longer have all day to ponder the text of a statement,  news release, or Tweet. Overly cautious or bureaucratic media relations procedures will fail in the hypercompetitive real-time world in which MSM outlets operate.


Friday, November 18th, 2011

Too often initiatives are planned, products are  launched and campaigns kicked off without a clear story to support them, and the results, predictably, are forgettable.

The good news is that more and more, communications planners are developing storylines around events to provide some semblance of narrative grounding.  The bad news is that the storyline generally remains a poorly understood communications buzzword with the result that many of these are so focused on corporate spin that they read like works of fiction.

Developing the narrative around an event, product, or initiative should be much more than just a writing exercise—it should be an exercise in strategic communications.  And it should result in a communication product that is clear, crisp and most important, credible.

Our approach to storyline development revolves around working with our clients through a facilitated process to ensure that their narrative will resonate with all of their key audiences and support their strategic objectives. 

In order to convey purpose and direction clearly and credibly, a storyline must be grounded in the strategic considerations behind a particular initiative.  And while it should highlight the strengths and value of the initiative, it should also address any important challenges it faces. 

Sugarcoating or overlooking fundamental communication challenges when developing a storyline is like a doctor lying to their patient to spare their feelings–noble intentions perhaps, but with potentially catastrophic results.

We see our role much like that of a print reporter. In developing the storyline we work with our client to answer the five Ws of journalistic writing (Who, What, Where, When and Why) and tease out positive storyline elements as well as address potential problem areas head on.  

In all instances, but most importantly in the case of public events, we start by getting to and understanding the real story behind an initiative–which may not necessarily be the one our client wants to tell–and then framing our client’s story in the most positive and newsworthy fashion.

The outcome we strive for is a one page CP-style story that frames the initiative clearly and succinctly while highlighting key messages and addressing concerns. 

This type of storyline can be readily adapted to produce core communications products such as key messages and media lines, while providing the outline and narrative structure for everything from op-eds to speaking notes and speech modules. 

In addition to generating a compelling external narrative, an additional benefit of our approach to storyline development is that it helps organizations to clarify strategic and tactical priorities.

By taking what is often an abstract writing exercise and translating it into a hard news story, this approach helps reveal potential opportunities and challenges that might otherwise have been overlooked in the communication planning process.