Developing Effective Communications Before You Have a PR Department

Naturally, startup companies are often unable to position public relations or internal communications as one of the prominent items on business development’s ever-expanding “punch list.” Even when products and services can thrive on their own value proposition, efficiency or quality, it will not be long before young firms need to acquire the ability to perform several types of communications, including a healthy mix of maintaining external channels and fostering proper internal practices.

If your core competencies or current budget situation will not allow for you and your team to address forthcoming communications objectives and needs, there is no reason to panic about adding another function to your daily responsibilities. Prior to hiring a public relations director, you can still cobble together your own style of communications strategies and tactics by developing an outline of priorities and preparing an informational toolkit about your company.

Part of a startup’s business plan already includes significant marketing and communications elements; they just need to be formalized. You can stretch your current communication capabilities or address potential deficiencies by leveraging strong writers and previous public relations experience that may be present on the leadership team or your staff to compile the following plans and resources:

I. Communications Planning and Strategic Materials

  • Communications goals for business plan over next two years
    • Media relations objectives
    • Branding opportunities
    • Social media measurement considerations
  • Establish plan for earmarking future budget and resources for creating a communications department; build a staffing model that best suits your business relationships with stakeholders and priorities for articulating and supplementing your company’s brand
    • Outline primary responsibilities
    • Define reporting structure
    • Create protocol for public information and media requests
  • Issues management response protocol
    • Audit of crisis or issue situation to include the following:
      • How should the company respond to difficult issues or emergencies?
      • What are the key messages for the company’s public response?
      • Who is the most suitable spokesperson to address media in timely fashion?

II. Public Information Toolkit:

  • Company history and timeline of product or service development
  • Overview of product or service brand offering / points of differentiation
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about product or service if necessary
  • Founders and leadership biographies
  • Publish all of the above information components to a functional, organized press room on your website

 III. Internal Information Toolkit:

  • Create branding guidelines and a writing style guide that align with company mission, culture and type of business for internal documents, presentations and memos
  • Establish a protocol for sharing internal announcements, success stories, media coverage, new hires or promotions.
  • Consider developing an intranet set for distributing leadership messages and company news across all levels and locations of the organization.

By building a basic shell of a communication plan for internal and external audiences and aggregating essential company information, your leadership and administration team will be equipped to respond to growing interest in your company from the customers, the community and local, national or trade media outlets. Selecting one leader as the ideal spokesperson and delegating an organized, versatile associate person to moonlight as the public information liaison despite not being versed in the traditional sense can go a long way toward cementing your brand and quality of communications as you devote your attention to elevating your brand.

Discovering the Virtues of Volunteering

The reasons for volunteering are mostly personal, but generally the time, treasures and talent contributions can yield benefits in the following areas:

  1. Helping an organization or cause one believes in and/or has been affected by in their lives or within their families.
  2. Expanding one’s professional and/or personal social network in a community.
  3. Fulfilling a requirement for a leadership development program.

Just as the motivations can vary for allocating one’s time for pro bono efforts, the types of volunteering are more than we might realize at times. Similar to the spectrum of nonprofit organizations, volunteering activities and roles can take on many shapes while constituting a valued portion of an organization’s fundraising, event management, educational programs or health issues awareness initiatives.

  • Personal activities – Volunteering at a church, school, environmental association or arts organization.
  • Professional activities – Mentoring students in a career field, serving as a judge for award panels for local professional associations or rating candidates for continuing education certifications.
  • Social activities – Expanding one’s network by serving as a greeter, usher or gate monitor at a fundraiser, race, grand opening or social extravaganza.

If you find yourself in a volunteer duty that isn’t particularly prominent or exciting, you can still absorb a lot of interesting practical knowledge on logistics and efficiencies from people working security, delivering ice and staffing an entrance. When assigned a role such as checking people’s tickets or VIP passes and it sounds like a tedious assignment, embrace the opportunity that you will be speaking and seeing everyone who enters that area. This could lead to meeting business leaders, mentors or just some new contacts in different industries of your community.

After these experiences, some of which were boring and solitary at times depending on the time and location, I felt some personal satisfaction having turned out,  met some new people and offered my assistance as a “utility fielder” wherever needed.

At some events that I signed up for and showed up on time, they haven’t always been ready or fully organized in delegating the assignments. While these instances happen and can be frustrating for someone who keeps a punctual schedule, I always offer this up to the organizer, “Look, you have me for the next four hours, so please just let me know what you need and I’ll get it done.”

Whether you want to congregate at the front of a festival beer tent as a social butterfly or you don’t mind grabbing a clipboard, hammer or two-way radio, consider the merits that different volunteering situations may present for yourself. You don’t have to just stand there to get that free T-shirt or earn those points for a project or certification, be gregarious and get your hands dirty if necessary.

IABC Heritage Chapter Regional Conference

Two weeks ago I attended the IABC Heritage Chapter’s Regional Conference in Indianapolis. This is my sixth year as an IABC member, but there is no chapter in Buffalo, so I applied for a scholarship to attend and share some key learnings through my blog. It was a session-packed two-day conference with about 150 attendees, mostly from the Midwest and New England chapters. It was great to see IABC student chapters from Ithaca College and Indiana State. I joined the Heritage Region, which covers 11 states, as an at-large member. I attended the 2009 IABC International Conference in San Francisco and the 2012 IABC Leadership Institute for chapter board members in Miami, but this was my first regional conference.

The organizers did a great job planning the agenda, which featured an excellent opening reception and Butler University social media presentation at the NCAA’s headquarters in downtown Indy. It was also a great convenience that all of the conference presentation decks were distributed via a Google docs link in the days leading up to the conference. This is especially helpful when you can’t attend all concurrent sessions, of course, but would like to peruse the materials of the ones you missed at some point.

Generally, when I attend workshops, panels, presentations and conferences, I will compile what I call a “synthesized summary” of highlights. In this spirit, I have digested several of the presentations into the list of takeaways.

1.The new IABC career continuum categories are “Foundational,” “Specialist,” “Strategic Advisor” and “Business Leader.”

2. Tim McCleary from The Involvement Practice provided an interactive opening keynote session called “What’s Your It?” that covered ways to involve employees better, outlining the methodology of “Understand It” (What is the change or opportunity?), “Own It” (Why is the change occurring?) and “Activate It” (“How will you make the change happen?).

3. Management change initiatives follow two avenues – The Escalator Effect – Employees can’t keep up with the constant management changes just as an escalator rail is always slightly ahead of the tread’s pace; and the Pancake Effect, where change programs keeping stacking on top of each other like flap jacks.

4. Where there is dialogue, employees will remember 50 percent of management communications; where there is immersion, there is 75 percent retention; and where there is true involvement, engagement rises to 90 percent.

5. Linda Dulye provided survey results that indicated employee engagement remains the top workplace challenge for communications with customer satisfaction the second greatest factor. She also noted that strategic planning and personal development are the top priorities of communications leaders.

6. Dulye’s 4R model for effective communication entails “Relay” (channel choice), “Relate” (customize information), “Receive” (active listening) and “Respond” (verify and follow up).

7. The 3V leader model – Seeing, influence and believing: 50% of communication is visual, 50 percent is vocal and 10 percent is verbal.

8. The SOCIAL acronym stands for Strategy, Objective/Obstacle, Content/Channels, Integration, Action Plan and Learnings.

9. 360-degree reviews and assessments can identify the “Say/Do” gaps in leadership communication. Leader behaviors and communications audits should include these questions: How they use their time? What are they leading? What questions do they ask employees?

10. Change awareness comes from formal communication (15%), processes/experience (30%) and leadership (55%).

The Escalation of Public Speaking Titles

So many people are fearful or nervous about public speaking, and yet so many others have experience and an ease in various speaking arrangements. It occurred to me that the progression of public speaking status titles might proceed as follows:

1. Public Address Announcer

2. Panel Moderator

3. Association Panelist

4. Subject Matter Expert Presenter

5. Event Emcee

6. Workshop or Retreat Facilitator

7. Lecturer / Adjunct Professor

8. Conference Keynote Speaker

9. Nationally and Internationally Renowned Orator

Making the Mentorpreneurship Matter

Do you serve as a mentor in some capacity in your busy life? Do you try to give back to students and younger professionals when your schedule can accommodate such knowledge-sharing sessions? Over the last few years, I made a more proactive effort to be a mentor and contribute whenever I am available.

Over the last couple of years I have enjoyed having mentees and job shadows from local college students.

There are a couple of things I have done to prepare for a mentee or shadow appointment is approaching:

1. I outreach to colleagues in other departments to see if they will be available for a 10-minute visit with the students during the “shadow tour”. This has worked well for me on several occasions, as we have been able to show students different work environments, including a television production studio, city hall, recreation centers and economic development and tourism offices.

2. I make a “media packet” or information folder to share with the students to show them the kinds of publications and stakeholder or customer collateral that are published by different agencies, departments or divisions.

3. I gather up back issues of marketing, public relations or advertising periodicals and bundle them up in a little “career development care package”. I figure since I have skimmed them already and they start to pile up, I might as well route them over to someone else who might make good use of them.

For the most part, all of my mentee tours have been productive, positive experiences. There has been one or two times where someone wasn’t able to make it, but all those who confirmed made the effort to come out to my office and were genuinely interested in learning about the various careers I was able to show them.

I always try to sign up when local professional associations put out the call for mentors. It’s usually just a couple of hours each semester and it can really help the students benefit from being exposed to a sector they might not have really ever considered from their academic track or personal interests at the time.

We can all be mentorpreneurs every now and then. It can feel good to help broaden someone’s mindset or perspective on a particular field. I encourage you to try and do it once in a while if you haven’t yet or just didn’t think about it as a part of your career development; after all learning and sharing is a 360-degree journey.

Are You in an Association Engagement Continuum?

Have you ever been immersed in an “Association Engagement Continuum.” Below is the escalation of involvement and roles as I see it for members of professional associations. For those who have traversed this cycle or any of its six stages, it has either been an avenue for networking, a way to enhance career development, a long-term volunteer commitment to leadership, a routine drain on their personal life or a blending off all of these scenarios. On top of eagerness and commitment, these diligent members pay the same annual dues while contributing ample amounts of time, talents and treasures above and beyond the casual members who just show up when a space clears up on their schedule. 

  1. Stage 1: <Attache involved> Curious non-member: This occasional event attendee will test the waters and sniff out the social scene and is willing to play the cafeteria-style card in their prerogative of selective participation.
  2. Stage 2: <Provided satisfactory completion of Stage 1> Enthusiastic novice member: This person is eager to attend as many association functions to feel that he or she is procuring full value for the $300 investment undertaken by his or her employer or their own wallet.
  3. Stage 3: <Provided the new member hasn’t gone AWOL after three to six months of regular face time at Stage 2 > Eager-to-chip-in recruited volunteer: This person is tapped for a specific volunteer role to help plan an event or educational luncheon. Following said engagement with the board and/or general membership body, the volunteer either vanishes from the association on a permanent sabbatical or he or she is hooked and is now on track for a three-year bid or more with the association in some leadership or board member capacity.
  4. Stage 4: <Provided the volunteer has renewed his or her annual dues and passed a litmus test of at least one board member> Committed board member: This person has committed to multiple years of board service in a variety of positions, such as special event planning, finance, mentoring.
  5. Stage 5: <Provided the board member still has a life and is a glutton for more volunteer punishment> Executive committee contractee: This is the ultimate reward / punishment conundrum – the much-feared or admired three-year bond as president-elect, president and the ever-so redundant “immediate past president”.
  6. Stage 6: <Provided board member can go cold turkey and abandon all volunteer and board duties for an extended period of time> Academic accolade acolyte: Individual embarks on pursuit of coveted association or related industry certification to become welcomed into the ranks of industry enlightenment.



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