External communications

If you’re reading this, you have a thing. It’s a thing you want to promote, or tell a story about, or whatever. It doesn’t matter if it’s a seminar, colloquium, webinar, training, talk, presentation, success story, profile, feature, infographic, report, slideshow, documentary, video interview or announcement. In a very real way, they’re all the same: You want a certain audience (or audiences) to know about your thing and you probably want them to do something about it.

There isn’t one guiding principle to effective external communications because there are so many variables. But if there was one thing to bear in mind, it is this: Your thing is one of a thousand things. It is no more important to you than other people’s things are to them. You are all competing for mindshare and attention, and not everyone is going to succeed. Often, despite your very best efforts, you will not succeed. You will plan and execute, and you will do everything right on paper, and still not enough people will know about your thing, or take action on it.

Your thing is one of a thousand things. It is no more important to you than other people’s things are to them.

There is a debate in the marketing field about how many messages we are exposed to during an average day. Conservative estimates are in the 100s, and others say 2,000+. The point is, even if you took away all the stuff that people actually have to do in an average day — make breakfast, walk the dog, take the kids to school, work, come home, mow the lawn, binge-watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix, etc. — there would still be all the stuff that is working to earn their attention. E-mail. Facebook. Twitter. Amazon. Billboards. Magazines. Radio. When you really think about it, getting a reasonable turnout to a seminar or film screening in 2016 is a minor miracle.

We get more into this in the communications planning section, but the best you can ever do is to get the right message to the right person at the right time in the right place. IF you manage that, the person still has to trust the source of the information you have expertly delivered, understand it, decide what to do with the information, and maybe act in the manner you desire. It’s a lot to hope for.

But effective marketing and communication isn’t that complex. A traditional definition of marketing would go something like, “The act of bringing goods and services to the people who need or want them, when, where and how they are wanted, and at an acceptable price.” Once you have the goods or services, it’s a matter of understanding who your audiences are, what they want, where they are, and how to make it as hard as possible for them to ignore you.

Consider for a moment how effective Amazon is at selling you stuff. You look at one backpack or king sheet set, and within minutes you can be on a totally different website seeing ads for other backpacks and king sheets. Once they know you’re in the market for these things, they make it very hard for you to forget you wanted them. But if the “average” web e-tailer is successful “converting” you 1 out of 100 times, Amazon might do it 3 out of 100 times. They’re 3 times better than the competition, but they failed 97 percent of the time, and no one is better at doing what they do.

This section is mostly about tactics — the material things that are informed by a communications plan. Tactics without planning never work as well as tactics with planning. If you can always use some of the same principles to guide your work with external communications, you will vastly improve the likelihood that your thing gets more attention than someone else’s.

Tactics without planning never work as well as tactics with planning.