Avoiding “Culture Shock” with Smart Communications

Perhaps the only thing more daunting than changing the culture of your organization is communicating about it. Yet, this is the area most vital to instilling that new culture among employees, and it’s the area where many companies—even great ones—fail.

Consider three important questions when rolling out a new branding framework or a company-wide initiative that affects culture:

  1. Why is this so important?
  2. Who needs to know about it?
  3. How should we reach them?

When communicating why the change is important, make it clear, relevant and engaging.

  • Clear: So people know exactly what’s changing and what it means for the company.
  • Relevant: In addition to what cultural change means for the company, people want to know what it means for them personally. That means different messages for employees vs. vendors vs. customers.
  • Engaging: People pay more attention to messages that are unique, fun and stand out from the slew of other company-wide emails and announcements.

In considering who needs to know about it, brainstorm both internal and external audiences to ensure you don’t overlook anyone. A change in your culture impacts not only your own employees, but your customers, business partners and investors as well.

Based on the list of audiences you develop, create a specific communications plan that lists the best tactics for how to reach each audience. Keep in mind, you will likely not communicate with board members the same way you do with customers, and vice versa. Here are some tips to remember across all audiences.

  • Consider a variety of tactics: Changing a culture is a huge undertaking. It merits more than a single email or news release. Instead, layer multiple waves of communications together as part of your plan, especially during its early stages, so audiences get used to seeing key messages about your new culture.
  • Detail an exact timeline: In the heat of the moment, it helps to have specific meeting times or “hit-send-now” times written out on paper. You’ll be trying to communicate with many different audiences in a short period of time, and you want the execution to be as seamless as possible. A timeline also helps you keep track of which audiences know what at any given moment. Your board, for example, will likely be more deeply informed than employees at the outset.
  • Make it visual: People can only read so many different announcements about your culture before they glaze over. By adding images or developing a visual campaign that captures the spirit of your new culture, you make it feel real and keep it interesting.
  • Keep it consistent: Without consistent messaging, your new culture can come across as a disorganized mess or a passing fancy. You want people to see the same messages, in many different formats, over time. This strategy goes beyond simply communicating your culture—it plays an active role in demonstrating it and building it.
  • Embed it for the long-term: Make it clear from the beginning that this effort has the full authority and support of company leadership behind it. This change is here to stay! Given that, don’t let communications lag after only a month. It’s smart to plan an extended campaign, often through the first year or two of transition, which works to keep the new culture top of mind for employees and other key audiences.

Happy Culture Shifting!

Customer Feedback Drives Results

Listening and responding to customer feedback is essential to successful business relationships. It lets your customers know you care enough to ask and are smart enough to act on their feedback.

We’ve been surveying our customers and sharing the feedback with them since 2004. It’s made us a better, more effective organization. The process is simple and straightforward. Each January, we send a questionnaire via Survey Monkey to our clients. We use a seven-point ranking scale, and our goal is that 75 percent of all client responses fall in the top two rankings: most of the time and virtually always. We also ask clients what services they think we excel at, what they think our strengths are and where we can improve. We meet with our clients to share and discuss the results, which we also post on our website so everyone can see the trend line over time.

Our survey probes for feedback on our brand promises in four main areas. Some highlights and composite scores from the surveys include:

Brand Promises  

 2004

 2008

 2013

 Produces measurable results

 68.5

 80.3

 92.6

 Links strategic thinking with creative ideas

 72.3

 79.9

 89.2

 Tells stories in effective, compelling ways

 62.0

 77.9

 98.0

 Manages business relationship well

 63.2

 86.5

 83.0

As you can see, we did not meet our goals in 2004. Yes, we were disappointed, but we knew what we needed to improve. That was huge! We took that feedback and worked on changes over time, and it made a difference.

For 2013, the good news is we continue to exceed our goals. We improved or held constant our scores, except for those related to invoicing. We also got comments that our telephone system is difficult to navigate. Based on that feedback, we are exploring steps to improve both.

Reviewing the open ended comments on what clients feel are our strengths, the most frequent responses included:

  • Strategic thinking and communication
  • Industry knowledge, especially in health care, senior living and financial services
  • Strong ability to make complex issues simple to understand
  • Relationship building

We are fortunate to work with great clients who understand their role in two key elements of a successful relationship. They understand and value the experience and expertise we bring to the table, and they provide prompt access to people and information needed to do the job right the first time.

I also am extremely fortunate to have a talented team of professionals who are passionate about their work and whose dedication to excellence drives these consistently high scores.  Thank you, team.

You can view our customer feedback results on our website:  www.blmpr.com

What do you your customers have to say?

Pitching to the Trade Media

If you have a great story that’s best suited for a niche or industry-specific audience, trade publications often are the perfect media relations opportunity. Here’s what you need to know before reaching out:

Know your audience
Who reads the publication? If pitching to an education trade magazine, for example, are the readers primarily educators, administrators, vendors? Take a look at a few past copies to check.

Get a copy of the editorial calendar
Trade publications establish their editorial content more than a year in advance and work from a planning document known as an editorial calendar. This also is shared with the advertising department to target advertising that coincides with the editorial content for that issue. Take a look at the calendar and determine which issue best matches with your story topic. For example, if the education trade publication has a focus on safety in the July issue, you’ll want to pitch your story on disaster planning for that issue. Determine how your story fits with the editorial theme and use that in your pitch.

Know your deadlines
Unlike newspaper, television and radio, trade publications are planned out months in advance. For the story on safety in the July issue, plan to pitch at least three, sometimes four, months in advance. Often the deadline is included in the editorial calendar. If not, ask the publication’s managing editor.

Know your reporter
Review past issues to determine the types of articles and their authors. Like newspapers, many trade publications have reporters assigned to regular columns or beats. Determine the best person to pitch with your story. Often it’s the editor who determines what gets covered, so start there. Suggest to the editor that your story would be best covered by the reporter who handles that beat or suggest a specific column or feature where your story would fit.

Keep it informative
If offered the chance to provide a bylined article, keep the content informative and avoid making a sales pitch. The best trade articles are ones that inform and educate rather than sell a product or service. Also, avoid jargon. Even though the readers are experts in their industry, avoid using jargon that others on the outside don’t understand. If the publication does not accept bylined articles, offer your expertise as a source for story content. Work with the reporter to give the information he or she needs to craft a story. Offer a headshot, author bio and any graphics or photos that help tell the story.

Be patient
Even the best laid editorial calendars get shifted around. Follow up with the publication to find out when the story will print. Offer to send another copy if needed. Once the story is printed, ask for a copy of the issue to share with your own customers and contacts.

- VP, Corporate Communications Manager, Regional Bank

“Above all, Bottom Line demonstrated to me the entire staff’s creativity, attention to detail, and willingness to go the extra mile to meet key dates and projects. I couldn’t have been happier with the process and I’m very pleased with the results. I absolutely look forward to working on similar projects with Bottom Line in the future.” 

Make Relationship Marketing Work for You

Facing increased competition? Public policy issues causing you angst? Planning to expand your business? Need to make friends in all the right places? Building allies is an essential strategy for many businesses, and relationship marketing can be the way to do it. It’s an effective approach for developing long-term relationships with key stakeholders who can affect your reputation and your bottom line.

Think relationally
Most businesses think about customer or stakeholder relationships as transactional – an exchange of something for something else. These “exchange” relationships are the essence of most marketing relationships. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – but it doesn’t always get the job done. Sometimes, the quality of the relationship alone contains more power to help you, and help someone else. A “shared” relationship, when one party gives something and expects nothing in return, is the best way to learn, understand, educate and advance.

Set a goal
First, set a clearly defined goal. What do you want to accomplish? You may want to uncover new business opportunities, better understand customers or prospects, educate and engage stakeholders, garner support for a new initiative, gather market intelligence, influence public policy or avert a potential crisis.

Who are you going to meet with?
Clearly define the stakeholder group you want to target. If your goal involves public policy or government, you’ll want to build relationships with public officials. If you’re introducing a new initiative, you may want to meet with CEOs. If you’re experiencing increased competition, consider meeting personally with key customers. If you’re thinking about expanding your facility, getting to know your neighbors is critical.

Be ready to tell your story
What do you want these key stakeholders to understand about your business? What story can you tell to help them make sense of your mission? What materials can you share to help educate them? What can you show them to engage them? What questions can you ask that will help you learn about their needs and concerns? Going into each meeting with a clear message and story will help ensure you’re tracking toward your goal. And anything you share – data, results, video, testimonials and more – will help each contact get a better picture of your business and the issue at hand.

A few other tips
You’re more likely to experience success if you research each contact prior to the meeting, listen well, honor the time frame, follow up with a thank you note and keep track of results. Staying organized and committed are keys to relationship marketing.

Remember, the relationship is shared
Just like all enduring relationships, the relationships you cultivate with key stakeholders take time and investment. If the process is working, there will be additional touches, further conversations, new opportunities and possible learning and change on your part. But that’s what you want. Shared expertise and knowledge leads to increased understanding for both parties, which opens the door for helpful, strategic action. Now that’s worth it. For both of you.