Raising Visibility Through Story and Strategy

Most organizations have an innate sense of how to raise their visibility in the market—Find great stories! Tell them! Showcase our differentiators! Reach our audiences! But executing on those concepts takes more than a basic understanding. Here’s how to go deeper to build lasting Story and Strategy for your brand.

Story

Prioritize expanding your toolbox as a writer for better storytelling.

  • Listen first. Engage with your frontline staff and customers. What are the moments that have stuck with them over the last month? The last year? For a story to have real power, it has to be relatable and personal. Traditional PR runs a risk of sounding a bit canned—talking with people helps you dig further.
  • Use narrative structure to your advantage. Good stories have a main character, a set up, a conflict, a climax, and a conclusion. Adding those elements to your organization’s story helps draw in audiences. I could technically tell you about a new piece of healthcare equipment in a news release, but it means more if I share the journey of a little girl whose life it helped to save.
  • Always be seeking new stories. Don’t just tie your story gathering to large initiatives or product launches. Stay in touch with people to mine stories on a regular basis. You’ll build a great internal library and organically create a culture that understands the value of telling your company’s story.

Strategy

  • Find your audience. The best stories in the world don’t mean much if you’re sharing them with an empty room. These days, it’s not enough to know who your audience is; you’ve also got to know where they get their information, which channels they use, and who their influencers are.
  • Think in layers. Crafting a great social campaign might be a good strategy, but it’s probably more honest to say it’s one branch of an even better strategy. Layer your information in a variety of channels and across a variety of times to generate the most awareness.
  • Evaluate and refine. Story-telling is a craft—that means you have to work at it. Assess what did or didn’t generate the results you wanted and be proactive in adjusting for the future.

With these tips in mind, your organization will soon become a pro at marrying Story and Strategy into lasting visibility.

 

Client Spotlight: ThedaCare

Every once in a while we like to give a shout out to one of our clients and showcase our good work together. This month, we’re featuring ThedaCare, a longtime client who’s partnered with us on everything from strategic communications to competitive intelligence to government relations to publications – and more. Here’s a peek into the scope of our work, and depth of our connections at this seven hospital, 35 clinic health system.

HUB

Strategic Communications

When change is afoot, as it often is in the world of health care, ThedaCare has relied on our strategic consultation, careful planning and expert writing skills to help develop communication plans, draft messages and roll out tactics from relationship marketing meetings, internal- and external-facing materials, events, media coordination and more. Using simple and clear language in our messages and creative visuals, we’ve crafted campaigns that share quality care data, the complexities of the Affordable Care Act, opportunities for new physicians, insights for government officials and significant organizational change.

Competitive Intelligence

In the world of health care, understanding your competition is essential. Sometimes that understanding yields a business partnership opportunity, and sometimes, it prompts a competitive business strategy. As part of the ThedaCare annual strategic planning process, we’ve compiled profiles of all kinds of organizations to help ThedaCare understand market changes and their implications in the 14 counties the organization serves – and beyond. Our research has included everything from national chain pharmacies and drug stores that are moving into care delivery to workplace wellness expansion to other healthcare systems and providers.

Government Relations

As part of the ThedaCare GR team, we support identification and strategic response around various government policies and regulations that present opportunities or risk to any and every part of the organization. We focus on state-level matters, and collaborate with our federal-level team members to develop strategies that influence policymakers on behalf of ThedaCare.

Publications

TC Magazine Portfolio Image

With years of experience in managing the ThedaCare employee newsletter and the ThedaCare community magazine, we’ve not only told the ThedaCare story in many vibrant ways, we’ve also learned the organization from the inside out. Relationships delight us and define how we work, so it’s no surprise we appreciate every person we interview, everyone who submits content and every soul who shares the heartfelt significance of participating in the ThedaCare mission of improving the health of the communities the organization serves.

Our Sweet Spot

We excel at behind-the-scenes consultation, research and marketing communications support that reaches the more than 240,000 patients ThedaCare serves annually, the organization’s many partners, public officials, stakeholders and community members.

As ThedaCare continues to lead in implementing the health care of the future, we’re excited to walk alongside their team of passionate experts. Strategically supporting this special client, and helping execute around key initiatives and projects is a centerpiece of our work in health care. That kind of support isn’t limited to ThedaCare, though. It’s simply one great example of how we do business, all day, every day.

Just Because It’s Steak, Doesn’t Mean It Sizzles

I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl. I don’t like to waste calories on fancy schmancy fillers like the bread basket, soup and relish tray when a petite filet and a baked potato (butter and sour cream, yes please) will fill me up. A good piece of steak creates its own sizzle. But sadly, the same does not apply to writing. The written word can be boring and needs something to capture, and keep, the reader’s attention.

There are two ways to describe sizzle. The first is through content. The second is with images.

The old expression, “All sizzle and no steak,” is often used in sales–tell what a product will do for you (the sizzle/benefit) not what it is (the steak/product). In other words, sell the benefits, not the features. For example, when choosing an airline to take me to my vacation destination, I have several airline choices. They have all the same features—three-across seating, complimentary beverage and peanuts or pretzels. What benefit sets them apart? My favorite offers all of the above, plus happy, friendly staff. That is the sizzle that helps take the hassle out of flying.

When describing your product or service, make a list of all the features, then put a benefit to it. It’s the benefits, the sizzle, which will make the sale. The same applies for writing. If you’re writing copy for a brochure, keep in mind your audience and describe the benefits. Let the reader imagine how much easier their life would be if they used your product or service.

When writing proposals to sell your services, include lots of sizzle. Let the purchaser know that you’ll take care of them by describing how what you provide helps them operate a bit easier. Keep your writing simple. Don’t clutter it with big words or lots of them. Simple is better, less is more.

Another way of looking at sizzle is what makes it flashy or fancy? You’ve written copy for a client brochure, but it lacks the sizzle. Work with a graphic designer to create an eye-catching look. Heavy copy doesn’t get read. Instead, use an infographic, chart or pictures to tell your story. People remember visuals.

Think of USA Today. There’s more sizzle and less steak in the popular newspaper. Today’s audiences are used to flash and sizzle. They’ve grown up with the latest gadgets and gizmos and tend to figure out how something works just by playing with it. Gone are the days of reading the owner’s manual first. Instead, cut to the chase and figure it out.

You’ve got all the steak in place. Just remember to bring on some sizzle to get your audience’s attention.

Taking Editing Advice

There’s nothing quite like investing yourself in writing. Whether it’s a report, a marketing piece, a legal brief, a news release, a business letter, or even something personal, you’ve given it your best shot and you’ve become fond of those words, in that order. When an editor’s pen swoops in (even if you invited it), it hurts.

Those of us who routinely edit and get edited have developed a few traits of heart and mind that lessen the pain. Maybe there’s something here that will help you, too.

  • Consider your editor. It’s hard to respect edits from someone whose writing skills you question. If that person happens to be your boss or a client whose expertise lies elsewhere – well, swallow hard, then negotiate and navigate as best you can. If your editor has bona fide writing credentials, or is a subject matter expert on your topic, you’ve just been given a chance to learn and grow. Take advantage of it.
  • Look for opportunity. Often, suggested edits result in additional changes. Rather than clinging to what was there originally, play with options. Maybe that list of ideas could be bulleted. Perhaps making two sentences from one clarifies your point. Could be a different opening adds zip to the story or creates a better set-up. Try it. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Editing fosters better writing.
     
  • Develop a thick skin. Talk about what’s essential! This is key. Writers of all kinds do well to learn how to accept criticism and not take edits personally. Being offended or upset adds an unhelpful layer of emotion to the process. It’s about the final product, not you.

Yes, editors pick and poke, revise and rewrite, cut and clip. They sometimes frustrate, sometimes challenge, sometimes annoy. Yet, every piece of good writing you’ve ever appreciated has been scrutinized by an editor – probably more than once. You’ll be happier and more satisfied with the outcome if you engage in the process. It’s all in your attitude. 

- Beth Fredrickson, Senior PR Counselor

How to Jump Over that Writer’s Block Hurdle

Every writer, at some point or another, has stared blankly at the computer screen or a blank piece of paper in a typewriter like it’s an autostereogram. (Yes, a typewriter. I wrote many papers in my early school days on one. This generation will never know the struggle of waiting for white-out to dry.) You stare and stare. Hoping, praying that your brain kick starts and you can start churning out copy. But just staring at the computer screen is not going to make that happen. What can you do to get past that pesky writer’s block?

Consider these tips the next time you find yourself at a blank.

  • Go for a walk — A study conducted by Stanford researchers, found that walking indoors or outdoors boosts creative inspiration.[i] So get up and move. Get the blood flowing, breathe in some fresh air. Just a short five-minute walk can give you a blast of energy and reinvigorate those creative juices.
  • Freewrite — This is an effective exercise to just get past not having anything written at all. Just type anything that comes to mind. You can do this with or without a topic in mind, but the goal is to start writing. You may be surprised by how much, and what, you write about even on days you think you have nothing to write about.
  • Brainstorm ideas in bullet points — Maybe you are having a difficult time writing out the entire news release or article all at once. You have an idea of what you want to write about, but you’re unsure of how to make it flow. You need to put those ideas in a bulleted list. They don’t even need to be in the order you plan to write about them, just get them down. Once you have the list you can re-order them to best suit the flow of the article, and start to expand on each bulleted point.
  • Listen to music — Some writers need absolute silence, but others, and I fall into this category, love to have music playing in our ears while writing. It helps me focus and gives me inspiration during the writing process. But even if you fall into the “I need silence” category, still just take a break and listen to some of your favorite tunes. It might be the inspiration you need.
  • Change your environment — Listen, we all have been there. Sitting in a cubicle or office all day can be mentally draining. And now you need to hit the switch in your brain and activate your creativity mode for a client’s news release. Well, these grey walls are just not cutting it, so change it up a little. If it’s nice outside, take a laptop and go outside to write. Go into an empty conference room, sure it’s boring too, but it’s different, and that is what you need right now. Just change it up and see what happens.

The next time you find yourself staring at that blank computer screen try these tips and you can hurdle that writer’s block with ease.


[i] http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf

Sometimes It’s Not the Message

We write a lot of messages. Internal messages. External messages. New messages. Fresh-polished existing messages. Messages that are spoken, printed, viewed. Even some that are written, rewritten, and tweaked again to stay current with a company’s shifting needs.

And we love them all.

But, sometimes, the message is not the trouble area nor where a company should focus the bulk of its attention. Sometimes it’s okay to stop fiddling with the exact language in order to take a closer look at what supports that language:

  • Your channels – Are you using the right methods for getting your message in front of people? The world’s greatest message won’t sway anyone if they don’t see it. What’s the reach of your current channels? What other earned or paid options can you add to the list? Are there channels you can eliminate to better put your efforts elsewhere?
  • Your audience – How capable is your audience to respond to the call-to-action in your message? Are finances, time or decision-making power limiting their ability to act? It’s very possible your message is hitting all the right people and they’re simply unable to move on it. If that’s the case and you’ve already adjusted your message to address common barriers, you might need to consider shifting your audience…not your message.
  • Your timing – Messages delivered in the wee hours of the morning or in the equivalent of tax time for accountants have little chance of being read and even less chance of producing action. Know when your audience is open to hearing your message, and target your channels and your timing accordingly.
  • Your expectations –As much as we’d all like them to be, messages aren’t a magic bullet. They do not work in a vacuum and they cannot work alone. Sometimes, it’s time to be honest and re-examine your mix of audiences and channels, as well as timing and budget. Small tweaks in any of these four can mean the difference between breaking out and falling down when it comes to delivering your company’s message.

 

Storytelling that Matters

When you break PR down to its basics, it’s all about sharing a story in a way that compels people to action. Whether we’re telling the story of a company, a community or an individual, our job as communicators is to make it shine. Easier said than done, right?

For a precious few stories, all the elements seem to come together in a way that was made to shout from the hills! For the rest, here are some tips to find the heart of a great story in nearly any topic:

Make it relevant
In the daily media world, this means it must be newsworthy via a tie—however small—to what’s happening in current news and culture. What trends does your topic help support or contradict? What impact does the story have on its industry, on other business, on society at large? Get creative!

By demonstrating these connections in your story, you’ll likely catch the eye of more reporters and readers. Remember, if your focus is trade media, they have a much deeper but narrower view of what’s relevant to their audience. You can use this to your advantage. While new training formats aren’t national news, for example, a trade magazine will definitely be interested in industry changes like that.

Make it personal
A relevant story tells people why they should read it; making it personal reminds them why they should care. It gets them invested. The best stories revolve around an individual—it’s worth the time to do your research and find a captivating subject for your story. This can be a patient who’s successfully walked the long-road of stroke recovery, a family who’s just bought their first home thanks to a unique loan program, or even an employee who gives back to the community outside of work. People love reading about people! Not only will you hold their interest, you’ll bring them one step closer to taking action as a result.

Make it vibrant
Nothing makes readers flip the page or click a different link faster than dry storytelling. Avoid rote sentences or monotone fact-listing. Instead, spice up your story with a strong, intriguing lead and direct quotes. Subheads also help mix things up, especially for tricky transitions in what might normally be a less-than-interesting article.

This is where your efforts to make it personal pay off yet again. Even if your story is about nothing more than drain tiles, putting a face to it introduces a twist that can help maintain interest.

And don’t forget a call to action
The point of great storytelling is to make readers feel something, do something. It can be as simple as chatting about the article the next time they’re with friends, or it could be a larger ask, like encouraging them to make a personal contribution to a cause. You want to write your story in a way that the call to action is implied, even if it’s not stated outright. How do you do that? By making it relevant, personal and vibrant.

So, next time you’re ready to share a new story, make it great!

Finding (and Knowing) Your Audience

No matter what strategy or tactic you’re pursuing in PR, it’s essential to first know your audience. The best collateral materials or social campaign in the world won’t be effective unless you’re able to get it front of your audience, with messages relevant to them.

When planning, ask yourself questions like:

  • Who do we need to reach with this and why?
  • What action do we want them to take?
  • Where does this audience currently get their information? What channels do they already frequent? A busy executive, for example, likely isn’t engaging in the same way or in the same places as moms or college students.
  • What does this audience want most? What could make our message cool and relevant to them?
  • What other likes or interests does this audience have that could relate to our message and boost attention?
  • Gather data on what’s worked or hasn’t worked for this same audience in the past.

This can be trickier than it seems. Popular e-commerce sites like Amazon and Netflix do a great job of understanding their audiences’ tastes via gargantuan amounts of data. They recommend additional products accordingly, but there’s a line between pure audience data and turning it into actionable intelligence. Netflix got a lesson in that recently with its Marco Polo launch. Though the show seemingly hit on all the audience hot buttons, according to data—action, romance, exotic settings, etc.—it by-and-large failed to bring those together in a way that appealed.

Smart PR pros recognize that to “know” an audience is to go beyond simple numbers or demographics.

You also want to make sure your messaging and tactics match your audience. We worked for a client who had developed wonderful messaging for referring providers…only to realize their target audience should actually be patient families, who desired a very different set of messages.

Knowing your audience not only requires up front research and thoughtful planning, but also a commitment to remain connected to and invested in that audience so you’re able to track with changing wants and demands. While challenging, it’s one of the most important aspects of PR, and once you truly connect with an audience, their loyalty makes all the difference.

Websites and Beyond

It goes without saying that the Internet has changed the way we consume content.

One of the biggest changes in media consumption and usage is how the Internet has allowed consumers of information to engage directly with experts, and with anyone who isn’t an expert but has an idea or an opinion. On the “expert” upside, there are fewer gatekeepers, so organizations and businesses are more able to tell their own stories directly to customers and consumers.

The Internet and its growing accessibility via portable devices encourages customers and consumers to become even more used to getting information quickly – with just the click of a (Google) button. That trend is changing the way health care, an industry we specialize in, delivers information to customers.

Patients now turn to WebMD and medical apps when they start to feel symptoms of sickness. People compare cost and quality of doctors and procedures. Insurance companies prompt members to use online body mass index (BMI) calculators and beyond. More and more people pay their bills online or review their credit history on a mobile app. What are healthcare organizations doing to stay current on these trends?

  1. Creating apps that help manage and monitor health conditions and wellness activities.
  2. Engaging patients through web portals that allow them to request doctor’s appointments, view test results, request prescription refills, and ask doctors questions.
  3. Creating websites that allow people to track everything from calorie consumption to steps per day to calories burned in various activities.
  4. Providing online payment portals that allow patients to pay their medical bills online.
  5. Utilizing social media to develop a more personal brand and relay important information.
  6. Offering text message reminders for appointments or prescription pick-up.
  7. Using tablets and smart phones to share real-time information from the surgical suite to family in the waiting room.
  8. Pushing out e-newsletters and links to partner websites and organizations.

The most effective organizations align their business strategy with these trends and tools, selectively engaging what works for their customers. What about you?  Would your business benefit from some changes in how you leverage the Internet? A website filled with information is great, and it’s just the beginning.  Don’t stop now. 

How to Write from Your Readers’ Perspective

One of the most important — and challenging — aspects of good communications is writing in a way that’s meaningful for your readers. Though it sounds straightforward, the truth is the demographics and personalities of your target readers will likely change drastically for each communication. A magazine audience has a different make-up than an internal employee announcement, for example. How do you ensure you’re making the best connection with your specific readers?

1.       Take the time to know your audience

Where do they get their information? What do they care about? What motivates them? This will help you determine communication channels, key messages and calls to action that resonate with them.

 2.       Write at the right level

Be mindful of which subject matter terminology your readers will be familiar with and which they may not be. Avoid jargon whenever possible, and use reading-level analysis tools like Readability-Score.com or Writing Sample Readability Analyzer to confirm whether you’re writing at a grade level appropriate to your audience.

 3.       Learn to recognize when you need separate communications

Don’t try to cram all your information into a single piece for use across all audiences. This approach ignores the nuances we covered in Tip #1. Employees are different than business partners; nursing home residents are different than the adult children of those residents. Each audience should receive its own particular communication that emphasizes the information and messages most relevant to them.

 4.       Read what your audience reads

One of the best ways to make your writing relevant to a specific audience is to immerse yourself in that audience – read what they read, observe how others are communicating with them. If, for example, your company is thinking of starting a blog targeted at working moms, research other blogs that cater to the same readers. What works and what doesn’t? Take notes.

5.       Share it and get their feedback

After you’ve worked through the first four tips, your next step is to share a draft of your communications piece with a few people who fall into your audience. They’ll be able to tell you where you’re close, where they still have questions, or where certain aspects of your messaging need tweaking. It’s a great measure of how relevant the piece will be for its intended readership as a whole.