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.

Anything Noteworthy About Your Note-Taking Process?

When you attend meetings with co-workers, vendors or clients, how do you capture the highlights, takeaways and action items? What is your signature process that works for you so you don’t forget to do something for your boss, colleague or [potential] client?

I tend to be very project-oriented and make checklists all the time. I occasionally wonder what other methods public relations adhere to in staying ulta-organized and keep everything together – the strategy, the needed tactics and all the logistical minutiae that can come with project management, delegation, execution and evaluation.

What are the core purposes of taking notes? I think we can mostly agree that the reasons generally fall into the following four areas:

  1. Stay engaged in the proceedings while participating in the dialogue
  2. Capture what needs to be done down the road by you and others
  3. Deliver meeting minutes to participating parties to abide by reason #2.
  4. If none of the above three principles apply directly, then it may come down to a simple matter of appearing officious or productive for a little showmanship

Some people like to use a portfolio folder or a journal with personal or artistic flair. Whatever works for you, right? Generally, I prefer the classic black portfolio notepad when venturing out of the office for professional association luncheons, seminars and conferences.

A few years ago. I embraced a new method for my scribbling madness. I was in Barnes and Noble when I stumbled upon the stationery section and found to my delight a extra-large, hard-cover sketch book without lines. I was hooked! I’m not really sure why, but I was drawn to a pad without lines. Perhaps this is because my handwriting is rather erratic, some would say poor, and I could get away with not staying within the arbitrarily-set boundaries of a notepad manufacturer.

The giant sketchpad book worked great for the most part. I took it to every meeting and each page was clearly dated in the upper-left corner, so there was no danger of action items getting lost or out of sequence from when they were discussed.

After two years with the sketch pad, I lost the interest and went back to boring office-issued note pads just because they were easy to grab from the office suply room. Now I resort to recording highlights of meetings in the right column on the agendas. Clearly, this works well whenever agendas are provided, so instead of my handy comprehensive sketchbook filled with notes, projects to experiment with and regular assignments, I was left with a growing stack of lists that could fall out of order.

If checklists are our efficient, mostly concise way of tracking accomplishments and matching them back with the original setting of the goals, then meeting notes are the functional necessities and the projects to ponder that keep you motivated to bring everything together and keep your process productive as you go about tackling all of the daily to-do lists.

Whatever note-taking process works well to keep you organized, keep at it, or take a step back and try a new format or style. Some might think my notes are actually a brand of reporter short-hand, but alas, no, that is my normal script!

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.