Pulling it All Together: The 360 Degree Marketing Communications Strategy

We’ve seen several distinct stages in the association sector’s journey into and through the world of social media.

At first, the evangelists spread the good news, and a few eager souls experimented. Early adopters followed their example, and soon, the growth from seed concept to mainstream was amazingly rapid – three or four years, depending on how you count.

At each stage, there were successes, failures, and lessons learned. Most of us are continually refining our objectives, strategies and technologies. And we’re learning from each other, which is absolutely AWESOME. As somebody said at an ASAE Annual session in Chicago, we’re all figuring this out together.

I'm speaking at the ASAE & The Center 2010 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA!These days, we’ve seeing another branch of the conversation emerge and begin to dominate: How does everything fit together in a single, cohesive marketing communications ecosystem?

For every association, every community, and every audience, the details of the answer will be different. Each of our communities has different inclinations, biases and preferences. There are great limitations to what we can crib from each other. But there are some universal principles, I think.

  1. There is no magic pill, and no killer app. No single channel will get every job done.
  2. Nothing goes away; every tool has value. This is a corollary to #1. I used to think that perhaps fax was an exception to this principle, but if you’ve recently bought property or had a major medical engagement, you can’t avoid the fax.
  3. They all have to work together. Each of our tools can, and must, work together. Remember that our members and audiences don’t relate to us through our technologies, but through the experience we provide them. So our platforms and channels must support the same brand proposition.
  4. The marketing funnel is still relevant. It’s evolved some, but it’s still relevant. I think marketers’ biggest mistakes occur when we apply the wrong tools to the wrong parts of the funnel.
  5. Know thy communities. Unfortunately, there is no short cut to obsessively learning about your members and your members’ communities. Your community of engineers acts very differently from my community of doctors. Even different communities of doctors have differences.
  6. Experiment and learn – quickly and cheaply. An old principle, but it still applies. There’s still no playbook, no “Ogilvy on Advertising” to rely on. We’re collectively writing today’s equivalent of that book as we go along.
  7. Communicate to your outposts, and bring them back home. Our members are playing all over the digital landscape. Find them, and show them the way back to your website and your blog.
  8. Prioritize and focus. You can’t do everything well, so don’t even try. Your member research should tell you where to focus.
  9. Measure, measure, measure. It’s the only way you’ll know if you’re succeeding.
  10. Warning: This WILL disrupt your business. This project will make silos teeter, and encroach on long-existent turf. Be prepared to deal with this. Do it well, and it will be an exhilarating experience!

My colleagues Jaime Nolan, Nan Dawkins and I will discuss these and other issues at our Learning Lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting this coming Sunday, at 1:30 p.m.

Our combined handouts are here. (.pdf)

My own slideshare set is here.

We hope to see you there!

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Core Competencies for Communications Professionals: Join us at ASAE Annual

Photo by TOMTEC, via FlickrFor the past year, the ASAE and the Center’s Communications Section Council has been working on a list of core competencies that communications professionals in associations should master today.

As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, we were updating a document that was only four years old, but already badly out of date. Two things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years: How people learn about the world around them, and how everyone can now be a publisher as well as a consumer of information.

It would be easy enough to update the toolset for this brief moment in time, but tougher to craft something that would have a longer shelf life than a loaf of bread. What we concluded was that the basic skills still occupy a very large amount of shelf space: writing, pitching stories, research, planning, speaking, etc. Without those skills as a foundation, no one could be called a complete communications professional.

By the same token, many of the newer social media technologies are also fundamental to our skill set. But how do we capture these when the tool set is evolving so quickly? (One shouldn’t assume everything around today that’s new will persist.)

First, by acknowledging the volatile nature of the business. I mean, there’s no way the golfer Stewart Cink would have a half million followers on Twitter a year ago, even if he had won the British Open in 2008 instead of this year. Tiger Woods, maybe. But Cink? He’s hardly a household name. But that’s how quickly our business has changed.

Second, take our best shot at identifying the dominant tools today – and we defined dominance as those which seem to command the great volume of conversation. The operative term here is core competencies. Others arise every year, but in our judgment some aren’t core yet. Next year, who knows?

Finally, recognize that as the tool set grows, few things are going away, with the possible exception of faxes. Everything else still has a place – a different place than before, but still a place.

So here’s our effort. What do you think?

After you review it, we want to hear from you. We have two questions, to start with: Is there anything you would change? And how can ASAE use this document to develop new education and training programs?

Two ways: You can comment here.

And/or, you can come and talk to us at the “un-session” we’re holding at the ASAE and the Center’s Annual Meeting on Monday, August 17, (corrected) from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. in Room 802A of the South Building of the Toronto Convention Center.

We hope to see you there!

Newspapers: That Giant Sucking Sound

black-holeWe are witnessing , before our very eyes, the utter collapse of the giant American newspaper.

I never thought its demise would be this fast, or so deep. The layoffs, the incredibly fast drops in circulation – 6% in just six months. It’s unbelievable.

The newspaper business model is dead, but journalism is not. Really – we need good journalists more than we ever did.

And traditional media isn’t dead yet.

I am currently reading Paul Gillin’s new book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing. Early (on page 24), he reminds us that social media is not well suited to several important marketing projects:

  • Branding
  • Channel relations
  • Direct marketing
  • Business to business
  • Targeting audiences over age 50
  • High ticket items

Sure, social media could help here. Gillin’s not arguing that social media is totally ineffective for these projects. He says social media is currently insufficient to get the whole job done.

So in the middle of this newspaper Armageddon, let’s not get carried away with the “social media is everything” thing. It’s not. Traditional media still has a job to do, even if part of its role now is to feed the insatiable social media beast.

Old Media Still Rules, But Not Alone

Last week, my organization released our annual Massachusetts physician workforce study. This is the seventh year we’ve done this, and it’s become eagerly anticipated by many people in the field.

We spent a lot of time planning its release – we honed the messages, the audiences, and the timing. We put all of our old and new skills to the test.

Naturally, we did old fashioned media relations. My veteran media relations manager, Rick Gulla, developed a list of four dozen reporters, based on his encyclopedic knowledge of the local media. I worked on the social media angle. I made sure the news release was SEO friendly, tagged it from here to kingdom come, posted an item on our blog and invited blog readers to share ideas for solving the shortages.

We gave reporters the information on a Friday. We embargoed the release until midnight the following Tuesday morning. Our volunteer president, Bruce Auerbach, was available on Monday to any reporter who wanted to talk to him, and he talked a lot.

There was one glitch. One weekly newspaper released the study about seven hours before the embargo time. I learned about it around 7 p.m. Monday night, while checking my daily Google Alerts feed. I immediately called Rick, who notified everyone else that the embargo was broken and they were free to publish. We posted the stuff on our website in no time flat. (It turns out the break was inadvertent, caused by a careless time stamp in the newspaper’s content management system.)

We did well. Our report was treated fairly and carried broadly. Some three dozen media outlets covered our report. Our blog got some thoughtful comments. The difference is that many other bloggers picked up our story and added their take. That was cool. Not all of it came from our fans, but that’s life. It did generate a buzz, though – and that’s what they pay me for. As of this writing, our study appears in page one of Google search for “physician workforce.”

The moral of the story is that all of the media works together. In any market – even a top 10 market like Boston – traditional media still matter. The fun conversations are around the new social media, because it’s new and changing all the time.

But the old media still command a big audience, and they are critical to how the conversation is framed. If the big daily in your town pillories you in the morning paper, you still have a problem, no matter how many bloggers are working in your space.

This reminds me of the unanswerable question raised at the ASAE annual meeting this summer: Is social media just another new tool, or does it portend a new way of life? Judging by what we experienced this past week, it’s both.

Old media is ailing, but it’s not dead yet.