January 2018

Monthly Archives

  • Paying Attention to the News

    In public relations, it’s important to pay attention to the news as it pertains to your business. Although you don’t need to respond to the majority of news stories, when a topic gets hot, it’s worth asking yourself, “Should my organization take a position on this? Do we have policies that protect us from being swept up in the public frenzy? Can we provide leadership?”

    Take the #metoo movement, for example. Have you taken an honest look at the culture of your organization? Have you reviewed your policies with regard to sexual harassment? Do you have any employees with a reputation for inappropriate behavior, proven or not? Times are changing and if you have issues to resolve with regard to how people are treated in your organization, now is the time to address them.

    Times are changing and if you have issues to resolve with regard to how people are treated in your organization, now is the time to address them.

    If you have a culture that treats men and women equally, one that deals with sexual harassment in a fair and transparent way, one that protects those at the bottom of the corporate ladder as well as the top, the #metoo movement may be an opportunity to provide leadership and earn your brand/organization the kudos it deserves.

    As always when it comes to communication, it is critical to consider all your audiences, both internal and external. If you need to improve your organization’s culture as it relates to a high profile news topic, always start with internal communication. If necessary, bring in someone who is viewed as unbiased by leaders and rank-and-file employees to gather information and complete a thorough assessment of where your organization needs to improve. Share results, goals and how you plan to measure success with a wide cross-section of your employees.

    If you are neutral on a given issue: you have policies in place and treat folks fairly, but it isn’t a topic you care to allocate resources to, it may be worthwhile to simply send an all-staff email that reinforces your company’s position on the issue.

    If you want to take a leadership position, you can incorporate the topic into your marketing and public relations efforts in several ways. Again, using the #metoo movement as an example, you could write a press release with a statement in support of women who have suffered from sexual harassment. If your product or service helps these women in any way, highlight it. You could make a charitable donation to organizations that help victims of sexual harassment and/or assault and encourage others to follow your lead. You could offer to create a specific product or repackage a service that donates a specific percentage of proceeds to the cause. You could team up with like-minded organizations to publicize the issue–blog about it, create advertising that focuses on the issue, hold press conferences, and ask employees for ideas on how your organization can do more.

    A couple words of caution before you run head-long into a mess: first, unless you are confident that you have a spotless reputation on a given topic, be careful about holding yourself up as an example. It’s better to be neutral than to have people believe in you as their champion, only to be let down. Second, be sure you are responding to a real issue and not a tempest in a teapot. Confirm that the news story you read is from a legitimate source and only respond if it is an issue that matters to you. It’s fine to benefit from genuinely good work, but you don’t want to be that company that is constantly trying to make every issue about them.

    If you’d like help developing an effective public relations strategy, get in touch! I’d love to help you. And if you’d like to receive a little communication inspiration straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

  • The Art and Science of Survey Writing

    When I ask clients about the tools and methods they use to communicate, they typically share all the ways they broadcast their messages, forgetting that communication should go two ways. When I ask about the tools they use to listen, gather feedback, or measure opinions, I am sometimes met with blank stares.

    Ideally, communication is a constant give and take. Most organizations have several important stakeholders: internal ones like employees and board members, and external ones like clients and industry partners. Even if you think you have your finger on the pulse and know where these stakeholders stand, it’s wise to schedule consistent check-ins. First, this allows you to confirm you do, in fact, understand how your stakeholders feel about issues that affect your decision-making; and second, asking stakeholders for their input lets them know you value their opinions.

    Surveys can be a great way to gather information, but not all surveys are created equal. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your survey.

    Define Clear Objectives and Keep the Survey Brief

    Effective surveys must be a balance between brevity and thoroughness. Keep your goals narrow enough that you don’t feel the need to ask dozens of questions. If you do need to ask more than a handful of questions, group them with headers, so the survey looks less intimidating.

    Share Your Intentions

    Let respondents know how you will use the information they provide. If possible, do not ask respondents to identify themselves; this will help them feel secure enough to provide honest answers.

    Include Instructions

    While it may seem obvious to you that respondents should click on the response that best describes their position, it’s best to be explicit. If you have a range from 1 to 5 representing strongly agree to strongly disagree, be sure it’s clear whether a 5 is the most positive or most negative response.

    Use Short, Concise Questions with Simple, Concrete Language

    Surveys are not the place to demonstrate your extensive vocabulary. Use the most common word to describe what you want to know. Also, avoid abbreviations, acronyms and industry jargon. Also, only ask one question at a time—avoid compound questions.

    Avoid Biases as Much as Possible

    In a courtroom, it’s poor form to lead the witness by asking questions that are clearly looking for a specific response. The same is true for surveys. Rather than asking people to agree or disagree with a leading statement, offer unbiased statements to choose between. For example, rather than asking whether the new company logo is much better at representing company values, is more attractive, and is more appealing to clients; consider offering a series of questions and allowing respondents to choose.

    • The new company logo better represents our values. OR The old company logo better represents our values.
    • The new company logo is more attractive. OR The old company logo is more attractive.
    • The new company logo is more appealing to our clients. OR The old company logo is more appealing to our clients.

    Another way to avoid bias is to replace emotionally charged words or phrases with more descriptive, non-politicized versions.

    Another way to avoid bias is to replace emotionally charged words or phrases with more descriptive, non-politicized versions. The Pew Research Center received significantly different responses when asking whether people supported “welfare” as opposed to “assistance to the poor.” They also received significantly different responses when asking whether people supported allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients “end their lives” as opposed to helping terminally ill patients “commit suicide.”

    Finally, to avoid biases, ask questions in a way that makes the truth more palatable. Rather than asking respondents how often they voted, attended church, made charitable contributions, used drugs and/or alcohol, or held racial biases; consider phrasing questions beginning with, “Did you happen to…” or “Did something prevent you from…” Softening questions or normalizing a whole range of behaviors can lead to more honest responses.

    Choose Question-type Carefully

    There are two main types of survey questions: open and closed. Open (unstructured) questions allow respondents to enter their own responses. Closed (structured) questions require respondents to choose from available options. Open questions can be harder to tally but are good for bringing in new ideas. However, they require respondents to work harder, sometimes leading to lower response rates.

    Closed questions are easier to tally, and if available options represent the most likely responses, the survey can be very useful. For closed questions, be sure each option is unique (make sure there’s no overlap like 1-10 hours, 10-20 hours; instead use 1-10 hours, 11-20 hours.). Keep options consistent (use the same measure or type of response). And include all possible answers as options (consider including “other” as an option so the list doesn’t limit respondents to inaccurate responses).

    Survey Types

    These days, surveys are easy to create and distribute online. Survey Monkey is a popular option. Social media platforms like Facebook also have survey tools. You can also call clients after providing service and ask a few basic questions or include a paper survey as part of follow-up correspondence.

    Whether you use a survey or some other method to gather feedback, it’s important to reach out and ask stakeholders how they think you’re doing and where they think you should go. You might be surprised at what you find.

    If you’d like help writing an effective survey, get in touch! I’d love to help you. And if you’d like to receive a little communication inspiration straight to your inbox, subscribe here.