Starting Point: Great communications is all about the relationship

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Social media. Direct mail. Enews campaigns. Web sites. Traditional advertising. Online advertising.

The communications choices facing organizations and businesses are endless and overwhelming, particularly when there is a need to be budget conscious (and who can afford not to be these days, right?). Added to that, for every tactic, there are experts who explain why it’s “essential”, “better than any other choice”, and the best way to demonstrate that oft-elusive ROI (return-on-investment). And these experts generally have a really great point.

Then, for those who do dip their toe into the myriad blogs, and posts, articles and ideas that discuss best practices in today’s PR and communications, they’ve read a lot about the need for content, good content, meaningful content, content that people will want to consume, share, and remember.

All of this takes time, money, and expertise, which is often incredibly elusive. What’s an organization to do? Again, particularly when dollars and time are really, really tight.

My advice, start at the basic level: do you get your customer/membership base? How do they like to talk with you? What do you know about them? Where can you best reach them? What do you do in your relationship with them that is better than anyone else?

Nothing too new in that approach. But, in a marketing/PR/communications landscape awash with flashy new options that are really, really fun and seem to be “what everyone else is doing”, it’s all too easy to forget about relationships; the bedrock of great communications.


Recently I ran a consultation for a client for whom the reality of dollars and staff/volunteer support was a very lean reality. BUT the client recognized a need to improve their communications and wanted to get it right. As we talked, they pulled out a stack of brochures and apologized for their home-spun quality; “we do things in house,” the client practically mumbled, “because that’s what we can afford.” The same was true of the website. It wasn’t flashy, and the client seemed chagrined.

I don’t like to talk tactics first in a consultation, and so we changed the topic.

We continued to talk and explore what the client felt his organization was really great at doing. Then, I spoke to others within the organization, and to folks impacted by its programs and services. There was tremendous alignment between all of these groups about what the organization does BEST. What was it? Relationships.


I don’t need the client to have a budget that would impress the Queen when what they already really “get” is the MOST important ingredient. In this case, the organization already “got” how to “get” people.

I love strategy; exploring the potential ways we can tie together really effective tactics to get at meaningful, measurable goals. But before we ever talk tactics, we talk core values and strengths.

Based on that, for some clients, social is the 100% best way to proceed; for others it’s best to keep it in print; for others the emphasis needs to be on events and face-to-face interaction. MOST of the time it’s a mixed bag with tactics weighted more heavily based on the strengths and opportunities available to us. But none of this ever works if there is a fundamental absence of what it really means to communicate.

Let’s go back to the homespun brochures and low-tech website. Yes, I definitely want to get this client to a place where their collateral really showcases the heart of their brand, and we can get there with some great training and a fresh approach to raising up talented volunteers within the organization. In the meantime, taking a closer look at these pieces, it wasn’t hard to notice that the content was solid. There’s a clear understanding by the client of their mission, and a definite love for their audience – their members and clients – that you just can’t miss.

Great content? Great content starts with a real understanding of the receiver. Snazzy collateral? My belief is that core customers will “forgive” homespun when the message is right. Capturing new interest? Well, right now we can’t afford all sorts of new materials, but we can launch some great face-to-face interactions; we can train the client not to fear social networking but to see it as a fun extension of the relationships they already value … there’s lots we can do that doesn’t need to cost the earth and we can get there because the core is right. We can use what the client is good at to overcome what they struggle with, and that will get us results.


Great communication is still about the conversation; about the relationship. Start there. Turn your questions around.

Instead of asking: Which social media should we start using?

Ask: What kind of engagement and relationship do I specifically want to grow, and will using social networks help that happen? How?

Instead of asking: When should we send that direct mail piece?

Ask: What is the primary conversation I want to get started, and is that done best with a direct mail campaign? How? When?

Change your orientation and the right tactics will become easier to identify. It doesn’t take a huge budget to make this priceless shift that will launch your communications from good to really, really great.


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