Monday, November 29, 2010

Create a relationship with your stakeholders

This won't work
These days, it is more important than ever to keep your stakeholders and clients close to you. There’s more competition than ever for their attention. Other charities have their hand in your donor’s pockets. Other non-profits are asking them to volunteer. Other social service agencies are taking your government funding and the clients that go with them.

The place to start is with how you think. Yes, you. Yes, how you think. Most non-profits I know have a very “retail” point of view when it comes to stakeholders and clients. It is usually transaction-based. Like a turnstile, the clients come and go. You communicate a message, they receive and process it. End of story and on to the next one. The challenge with this point of view is that it is a micro view of the world. A transaction is a good measuring stick for any non-profit, but not in and of itself.

What you need to do is think of your customers and stakeholders in terms of relationships. It is not the individual transactions they have with you that matters. It is the long-term relationship they have with you that counts. So, instead of asking whether they went through the turnstile, the real question is have they been through before and whether you can make them come back.

This may seem like semantics, but it has as real financial edge. There’s an old business rule that says it is easier and more effective to sell an existing customer than a new one. Study after study has proved this to be true. The same applies to your relationship with your stakeholders and clients. The real value is your long-term relationship with them.

And that is why most non-profit communications program fail to deliver results. They are very often transaction-based. A prime example is the quarterly newsletter. It is sent out quarterly usually because of budget concerns – monthly print newsletters are too expensive. But your stakeholders don’t actually think in terms of financial quarters. They think in terms of their own set of values and judgements. And the quarterly print newsletter doesn’t work for them. The reason is that the newsletters rarely connect the pieces of the non-profit’s communications program together. They are stand-alones, that have look and feel of a turnstile.

Now, consider what the relationship theory would do. On frequency, the theory would say that the number of newsletters should be determined by what the relationship needs. Quarterly, monthly, even weekly at times. On content, it would hold that the newsletter needs to promote long-term engagement, and that would mean tying the newsletters together and tying them into the other communications pieces to make a whole product.

And if you think that flexible approach to frequency will bankrupt you (Egads, a weekly print newsletter?), think again. Email newsletters can take up the slack. I recommend a quarterly or even yearly print publication backed up with email newsletters based on the frequency the relationship demands. That means sending emails monthly, or on special occasions, even weekly (like sending a special email to wish them a happy new year on December 31st).

Relationships are where you want to be. It will deliver more value, likely save you money over the long-term and give you greater stakeholder power.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Carrying the Message

Your people in action!
There’s an asset that you have plenty of. I know many of you find that hard to believe, but it is true. There’s a real marketing asset that each of you has. It’s cheap, and might even cost you nothing at all. It’s relatively easy to use. And it’s a source you can trust…well, most of the time. What is it? Your people and their connections.

Every non-profit has people. Staff, volunteers, supporters and donors. And each one of them has their own network of friends, family and people they know. So, why not get all of these people working for your non-profit marketing?

The bottom line is that these people are already communicating about your organization. Your staff go home and tell their spouse what happened at work. The volunteer talks about what’s happening in your organization over tea with their friends. Your donors tell others what they gave to and why. If you’re like most non-profits, you ignore this communications channel. And that means that each staff member, volunteer or donor gets to say whatever they want about you, and they usually do. Just imagine what a hodge podge of messages that creates.

Here’s what you do to turn this into an effective communications channel. First, recognize these people for what they are – community ambassadors. Then treat them that way. Give them info and messages they can use. Tell them you want them to talk about you and spread the word. Teach them how. And make sure they know that you don’t want to turn them into marketing robots who just regurgitate what you tell them to. You just want to make sure that they know what to say when someone asks them.

Second, keep them up to date. When something happens, let them know first. I used to work for a hospital. When bad stuff happened, no one said much of anything to our staff members. But when those staff members got home I’m sure their friends and family asked them all about it. If instead we had informed them first and equipped them with key messages we could have turned some very bad news into something positive.

Finally, reward them for spreading the message. Ask them to speak to others and register who does what speech to which group. Then hand out a reward for the one who does the best or the most.

You’ll find that arming your people with the sword of truth will give your non-profit the ability to slay many dragons.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Measuring BRAND

I just picked up a book on branding. The last chapter was devoted to brand measurement, especially brand ROI. I am a big believer in measurement, so I read this section with some interest. What I found surprised me.

It turns out that there are many ways to measure brand ROI, however, none of them seemed particularly effective. For example, one measurement was calculating all customer sales that were promoted through branding. That sounds pretty effective until you start thinking about it. Aren’t all sales tied to a brand? Perhaps in some mega-companies that operate multi-brands this makes sense, but to the garden variety for-profit or non-profit business who have only one brand this doesn’t make sense.

There were a number of other measurements. The one that seemed to make the most sense was brand recall – asking people if they remembered the brand. However, this is clouded by advertising campaigns. Brand recall will surely go up if there’s been a big advertising push. So, when McDonalds does a brand recall measurement after a more successful TV ad campaign what are they really measuring? Is it “I’m loving it” (their brand) or the ads themselves?

All this leads me to the conclusion that branding measurement only seems to work when you’re a large multi-national with multiple brands. For non-profits, it is still a very hard thing to gauge.

Branding is important. And it should be measured. But instead of trying to measure ROI or recall why don’t you measure fit and organizational understanding. This is what I mean. Ask your clients, supporters or donors whether your brand makes sense to them. Then ask them if they really, truly understand your organization. If they say yes to both (with some probing on the second question), then you know your brand is effective.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is John full of ****?

Got a comment back from one of you:

"John, you sound just like the other gurus you berate here... Aren't you in the marketing communication consulting business and trying to convince someone to work with you as well?"
Good point. For sure, we all see things from our own perspective. So, it's not surprising that we have different opinions. But I do think that marketing suffers from a "flavour of the month" syndrome which hypes up a number of things way beyond their real value. Social media is just the current example. When I worked at an ad agency in the late 90s it was e-commerce. Our agency spearheaded a conference in New Brunswick about e-commerce...just in time to see the dot-com crisis change the landscape. So, yes, I'm a bit cynical of the latest fad.
Social media certainly gives real value. However, I've seen a number of non-profits get into social media mostly because of "fad" issues rather than because of a real strategic reasons. For example, I've met a number of non-profit leaders who say they've been told they need a Facebook page or a Twitter account, but they're not really sure why. That's a problem.
The question you should have asked is whether I am full of shit or not. That's a toughie, but, no, I don't think I am. I do have opinions and I say what I think...sometimes bluntly. I hope that gives you some value in your world. There's only one real way to tell, though. Call, email or "comment" me, and see what I say!
I like comments. Feel free to send them in or call.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Media…with a grain of salt

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. Take the marketing gurus you hear and see with a grain of salt. If we believed even half of what their predecessors said many years ago then the “dot com” bust would never have happened and we would all have our own personal brands and logos tattooed on our foreheads.

It’s not that they sell snake oil – most of them are well intentioned. No, the problem is that the cutting edge is a difficult place to predict the future from. The bottom line is that they often don’t know what will happen in the future. The other challenge with these gurus is that they often have blinkers on – they see things through a very narrow window. As Jonathan Salem Baskin says in his book Branding only works on cattle, “When you own a hammer all the problem’s look like nails.”

And what’s the latest buzz? Social media, of course. There are thousands of gurus out there right now writing books, offering seminars and making sales call with the words “social media” on their lips. They all want you to invest in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

Baskin talks about this in his book. He says that when it comes to most social media communities, most aren’t real communities and few have real conversations. There’s a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost is that the entire world isn’t using social media. Yes, many people are, but there are still a very sizable majority who don’t use it at all, or worse, use it sparingly. This is easy to prove. Just ask yourself if you know someone who has a Facebook page but hasn’t checked it in months if not years. Likely, you know plenty.

Second, most social media really doesn’t have much of a purpose, except to the marketing and communications people who control them. They are very often simply posts from the corporate website’s news and events page. In effect, it’s just another web page, just packaged in a different way.

Third, a great deal of the effort that goes into social media from Non-profits and others is not sustainable. You’ve all seen it. Some non-profit puts some time and effort into Facebook or Twitter for a while and then stops because they lack people, resources or time. The story of social media is usually feast or famine.

It’s no wonder then that most non-profit social media is not very effective. The stats on its power are very mixed.

So what should you do? Start by trying to define a social media strategy. Ask what you really want to accomplish. And take a customer-focussed approach. Ask what your supporters and donors want from your social media, not what you want. Then, give it to them.

Cutting the Cord

Another sign today that the mobile world has arrived.

A study by Neilsen shows that one in five Americans has dropped their home landline phone and instead use only cellular service. And it is increasing. Most of the switch seems to be being fueled by young adults who have started new households with just a wireless phone service.

What does that mean for Non-profit marketing? Plenty.

First, phone numbers are more precious than ever -- for you and your donor/supporter. For them, there may a reluctance to give you their number because it is a cell phone (to which some time of day or length or call changes may apply). For you, it is an opportunity. With their cell phone number, you can begin to think about text-based cell marketing opportunities and possibly even wireless donations.

Further, the switch to cell phones can give you an insight into your services. For example, if you begin to notice more and more cell phones in your database, review your website. That's because while most cell phones today can navigate the Internet, most websites aren't geared for mobile users. Make sure they are in synch.

And finally, the switch to cell phones can give you a better insight into your marketing mix. More cell phones means that more electronic channels make sense. Add email and social media and jettison print.

The study can be found here:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mass Collaboration

What are some of the essential strategies for today’s non-profit marketing? You likely know many of them. Using technology. Personalization. Relationship building. Data mining. But there’s one that you probably don’t know. I call it mass collaboration.

All together.
The term is not new. It comes from mass production – the bedrock of industrialization and marketing. Mass production was simple, even elegant in its expression. Make large numbers of very few things for very large numbers of people at competitive prices. Marketing mass production was simple, too. You made a TV or radio ad and put it everywhere. End of story. Back in the 1950s, this worked. Today, it doesn’t. Replacing mass production has come mass personalization. Now, organizations are making things their individual customers want and can change to suit their own personal needs. Marketing has also changed. Now, instead of using a shotgun to send your marketing message, most organizations are trying to find a more narrow group of targets through social media, niche advertising, online ads and more.

But something is missing. Mass production or mass personalization, most non-profits are usually in a position where any kind of marketing is a challenge. The main reason? A lack of resources. They don’t have the cash, the people or the skills to execute even the simplest marketing program. That’s no one’s fault. It’s just a hard reality. This challenge may not be the most important, but it certainly is the most immediate. And overcoming it will be one of the essential strategies for the future.

The key is changing the way non-profits think. As underfunded, understaffed and sometimes unloved as they are, I always find it curious that non-profits are so adverse to seeking partnerships. They are in fact the perfect group for such an endeavour. They are usually community-based. They have some expertise. They need help. What they need is to embrace partnership not only in their service offerings, but also in their marketing.

This is mass collaboration. It starts with the realization that there are others out there who share your goals. They can be other non-profits, governments or businesses. They may be in the same boat as you in terms of resources. But if you pool your talent, time and treasure you will be able to do more than any of you could individually.

How can that help in your marketing? There are plenty of ways to partner. The first is to share resources. How about building a website together to save money? Engage the same web designer, but get them to make two different versions. Likely, that will save you money. How about creating an advertising cooperative? You and your new friends can pool your money and buy ads together to save on costs. A single designer could help, too. Why not even design ads that in fact promote all of the members of the partnership? And, pushing this idea even further, you could hire a communications person or agency that you could share.

On the business side, mass collaboration means more than just sponsorship. It means engaging businesses to help you with things like distribution of your marketing materials and even lending you some of their staff. Instead of just asking for money, why not get your next sponsor to help send an email to their workers, suppliers and customers about your next fundraising event?

So, put on your thinking cap and start thinking of ways to collaborate. That’s the way of the future.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New study finds sheds light on fundraising marketing

The guy on the right is the donor!
A new study released in August has some surprising things to say about fundraising marketing. The study by Russ Reid, a Pasadena, California company that provides direct-marketing services to non-profits, found that one the greatest indicators for giving is whether a donor’s parents were involved in helping non-profits. Parental involvement in non-profits increased the odds of a child becoming a donor by more than 80 percent.

The study also concluded that social media has yet to become a giving medium. While 57 percent of all donors said they used social media, only 6 percent actually gave money that way.

The big “no brainer” for the study was that a charity’s website was the single, most critical marketing vehicle. Most donors went there to get more information, and many of them went to there to give online.

So, where does that leave your non-profit?

First, if parental involvement is a big deal, encourage it. Why not seek out two generation families that give to your charity? Take their picture and put it in your newsletter and on your website for all to see. You could also create giving products aimed at parents and their children.

On the social media scene, the research is mixed. It may not be a place where people give, but it certainly is a place where people have relationships with each other and your organization. So, forget the hard sell on Facebook and instead use it keep donors engaged.

Finally, you need to look at your website for what it is – the centre of all non-profit marketing. It has to be good, easy-to-use, engaging and, most of all, up-to-date. Don’t be tempted to just leave it as it is in hopes that it can stand the test of time. That will be the kiss of death for the thing. Your website is the single greatest investment in marketing you can make. Support it with content and maintenance.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Compassion sells.

Why do people give? That’s one of the fundamental issues behind fundraising marketing, and it’s one that Non-profits usually mess up on.

Zero compassion
Statistics Canada asked donors this question in their 2007 omnibus survey on fundraising and volunteering, called Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians. The answer was not surprising. The biggest reason was compassion towards people in need (at nearly 90%). Other reasons included wanting to help a cause in which they personally believed (86%), wanting to make a contribution to the community (80%), and having been personally affected or knowing someone personally affected by the cause the organization support (62%). Donating because government would give them a credit on their income tax rated only 23%. The results are pretty much consistent with the survey done in 2004. Compassion sells. Plain and simple.

But it’s obviously not that simple, because too many charities ignore this. I’ve seen a lot of fundraising marketing materials, and too much of it focuses on things rather than people. A hospital I know recently turned their ads from focussing on people (patients) to buildings and pieces of equipment. That’s a classic mistake. Donors can’t feel compassion about things. They need people to inspire them to give. To make them feel angry, to shame them, to fill them with hope. The common element is people. And it must be real people, not swimwear models. Compassion doesn’t extent to actors.

100% compassion
The best thing about compassion is that it is an easy story to tell. Anything can be about people, and people can be related to anything. Take those buildings that hospital used. Would it have been so hard to find a real patient or a real doctor to tell the story of how that building helped a real person? Imagine that instead of a cold building there was a kid who beat cancer saying thanks. Which do you think would be more effective? Yes, telling those stories takes extra effort, but it is well worth it.

So, go find a story about your charity and tell it. Because nothing sells like compassion and that always involves stories about real people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Don't waste Christmas!

Timing is everything, and with Non-profit marketing it is especially so. There is a rhythm to marketing. How one communicates to supporters, donors or the public differs depending on the time of the year. Just as Canadian Tire sells more snow-plows in winter and Tim Hortons sells more ice coffees in summer, Non-profits also have their seasons. One of the biggest and most important of them has just begun, but chances are that most Non-profits in Canada will waste this opportunity. What am I talking about? Christmas, of course.

Asleep at Xmas?
The holiday season is the one of the best times of the year for non-profit marketing. For those who fundraise, it is one of the best times to ask for donations. It is a time when people are already giving – to the ones they love and to the community. Asking them for a donation fits with what people are already doing and thinking. Donating also makes an unique and powerful Christmas gift. Many charities have successfully created new and exciting donation-based “presents” that people can give each other. Finally, there’s the tax receipt issue. This is the one time of the year you can ask people for a gift for tax reasons. Many people find themselves in the boat of needing to make a gift for tax reasons at the end of the year.

There’s also the issue of thanking donors. Christmas is a time of giving thanks for what we have. For Non-profits, it is a powerful time to tell our supporters and donors how much we appreciate them.

Unfortunately, all of this is lost on many Non-profits. I’ve seen it many times. For them, Christmas is a time to wind down, take some time off. They may mount a few holiday-inspired efforts, but for most its nothing special. Many times its because they just didn’t get around to it in time and found themselves with nothing special for Christmas until it was practically Christmas itself. As a marketer, I find this very, very disappointing.

It is now the end of October. There is still time to do something for Christmas.

Where to start? First, think about what you can do to thank your donors and supporters. You could do Christmas cards, but postage is rather expensive. How about an email instead? Better yet, why not record a short video and upload it to Facebook or YouTube and use email to drive people to it. That way you’ll have them watching your Christmas video at the same place your online giving is located.

For things you can “sell” at Christmas, try thinking about calendars or Christmas ornaments. There are plenty of places that make them. With new web-based printers you can now even make the actual numbers of such things you need rather than buy in bulk and have leftovers. Contact me if you need some specific examples.

Christmas is a great opportunity. Don’t waste it. Get busy on your Christmas marketing program now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Global Study finds mixed marketing bag for Canada

Demand for services is rising fast for charities around the world. Faster than donations are expected to increase this year or next, according the 2010 State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey by Blackbaud.

The report covered a number of fundraising issues. It found that on marketing, Canada had a long way to go.

Canada was significantly behind the US in the use of Email as a marketing tool. Some 58% Canadian nonprofits that said they were using email compared to 75% in the US. The rating put Canada below every country in the study except the Netherlands.

Again, on SMS cell phone texting, Canadian nonprofits scored far below their American counterparts. About 11% said they were using SMS compared to 20% in the US. Again, Canada rated next to last in SMS use.

On use of social media, Canada placed within the pack. When asked whether they plan to invest in social media, 28% Canadian nonprofits said “yes”. In the US, the rate was 35%. While close to others, Canada had one the lowest ratings on social media investment.

Other low ratings for Canada came on whether Canadian nonprofits had an existing written online strategy and a brand/marketing plan.

Some of the numbers didn’t jive. Despite the low email ratings noted above 74% of Canadian nonprofits said they had electronic newsletters.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's worse than I thought

Since I began writing about Mobile technology and how it will change the face of Non-Profit marketing I’ve been stumbling over more and more information that tells me I’ve been too conservative.

The promise is clear. The power of the web, email, social media, photography, video, music and cell phone service will one day be in the palm of your hand. Today’s smart phones will soon give way to faster, smarter devices that will do all these things and more.

I always thought the day when smart phones and devices take over the Earth and enslave us all with their seductive technology would be decades away. Child of the analog world as I am I still thought about the pace of change in the way I have experienced it. I was wrong.

And this is how I know I was wrong. The “Future of the Internet III” study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed a large number of experts, predicts mobile devices will become the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world by 2020. They also said voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the Internet will be more prevalent and that the divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased.

That means that in a decade or so your primary marketing channels will be radically different than they are today. Your audience will be on the move, receiving and transmitting as they go. They will open your communications in their car, as they walk down the street or watch their kid’s ballet lessons. On the one hand, this will give you potentially more opportunities to engage them. On the other, this will actually shorten their attention span. Sitting down to read a letter from a non-profit is one thing. Trying to read one as you live an even more mobile lifestyle is quite another. Your messaging will have to be tighter, sharper and brighter. The hard lesson of the Web that most non-Profits have missed – that images are more important than words – will become even more acute.

Engagement overall will become harder. With no gaps between social life and work, and technology fuelling more and more online activities, most of your supporters, donors and volunteers will be more busy than ever. Getting them off their mobile devices even for a minute to help you with an event, a survey or to make a donation pitch to them will be a huge challenge.

It also means that the tattered and makeshift technology platform that most non-profits have will likely melt into the ground trying to cope with the changes. In the new mobile world, everything will have to change. Your website will have to be altered to make it more mobile friendly. The large amounts of information non-profits love to bombard supporters and donors with will have to be shortened and refocused. Most non-profits do a poor job collecting emails now. In the future, they’ll also have to collect cell phone numbers. Direct mail will become direct mobile response.

Worse, it will make demands on the two things the non-profit has less and less of – money and skills. There’s no avoiding the truth. The new mobile marketing will cost more. In some cases, it may save money, such as when it replaces print materials. However, the infrastructure required to market to mobile customers won’t be cheap. And who will help deliver those programs? Most marketing and communications people in the industry today are mostly ex-journalists, who have no more expertise in such matters than any of you do. IT skills will be more important than ever.

If the Pew study is right, you’ve got less than a decade to prepare. Start now. The mobile world is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get going right away. Do your homework. Start thinking. Ask your suppliers and providers what they can do for you. Keep track for the trends. And if you really want to be aggressive get your marketing staff smart phones. Having them will act as a catalyst for the change you want to see.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Measure this!

How big a bird is your marketing?
It’s Thanksgiving and you’re no doubt counting your blessings. But do you count your marketing blessings?

What you can’t measure, you can’t manage. That’s a very old saying. However, we all know that most Non-Profits don’t follow it. Measuring is just not something all of us do.

To see how bad it is, read the “The State of Nonprofit Marketing” from The American Marketing Association and Lipman Hearne (2008). The study found that a third of Non-Profits didn’t measure market share, their print advertising or their search engine optimization (where they show up in online searches). One in four didn’t measure Length of time spent on their website, the number of repeat visitors to website or the effectiveness of their public relations. And one in five didn’t measure the number of unique visitors to website.

There are many reasons for this. First, is that the marketing that most Non-Profits do either have built-in kinds of metrics(like measuring how many people come to an event) or they use anecdotal evidence (like when their grandmother says they liked their newspaper ad). But as measurement goes, this is not very deep. Second, is that they often confuse expenditure of money and other resources as the measurement. For example, I once asked a senior hospital person how effective their ad campaign was and she answered by telling me how much she had spent. All in all, the most common marketing measurements are often the easiest and shallowest. They don’t really give you very much meaning.

Perhaps one explanation is that marketing and communications measurement is different from program and fundraising measurement. It requires a bit of a different skill set. And what you measure can vary widely depending on what you use for marketing vehicles. It can be complicated.

So, where does that leave you? First, don’t panic about measurement. Make a commitment to start measuring better and then start from there. What I recommend is that some measurement is better than none. Start with the lowest hanging fruit – the online stuff. If your website doesn’t have a measuring package (like Google analytics), get one. Any geek can tell you how to add it. Ask your co-workers kids, they’ll likely know. If you use an email marketing program like Constant Contact or social media like YouTube then measurement track programs will likely be included. Find them and get to know how they work.

For online measurement trying looking first at how many people look at your stuff and when. How does the number of visitors to your website this month compare to last? Can any spikes or decreases in traffic be explained by something that you’re doing? Now, look at the time people spent with you online. For email, how many opened your message and how many people clicked through? For web, how many were unique users (not the same person every time), how long did they spend and how many pages did they see (a measure of the depth of their interest), where did they come from (from an online search or did they come direct) and what was the bounce rate (a bounce being when someone comes to your front page and then leaves – the higher the bounce rate the less the engagement)?

In all this, try and see if you can find patterns. For example, when I worked for a hospital foundation I found that out of a thousand subscribers in our email marketing system about a quarter opened our emails consistently. I spun these off into their own group and sent them different messages. Why? They were true believers. Concentrating on them had more value. Similarly, I could find patterns in the hospital foundation’s web traffic. I could start to see what pages were the most popular. That led me to change how the unpopular ones were set-up to give them more profile and increase traffic.

There are many other measurements, from opinion polls to brand equity surveys. You need to find out what works for you.

Two more pieces of advice. First, take measurements that count “impressions” with a grain of salt. I could say that an ad I place in newspaper X reached 25,000 readers, but this doesn’t tell me anything. Of that 25,000, how many actually read my small ad on page 17? An impression can mean nothing. Second, web-based measurements (including mail and social media) are superior because they are action-based. When someone clicks though or opens or becomes a “fan” they are performing an action. That’s worth measuring, even if it is a very small number, because it is a true test of the effectiveness of your message.

So, start small and start soon. Get your feet wet on the easy web measurements and go from there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Marketing Presentation

Last week I gave a presentation to Canada's Epilepsy organizations in Kingston. Here's my presentation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"How much should you spend" Follow-up

My last Blog on budgeting for your Non-Profit Marketing budget has provoked a great deal of response. There’s a lot of debate about how much is too much and how much is too little. I thought I’d keep the fire at our feet burning by asking two experts what they thought.

Alain Thys has spent 20 years of experience in Europe as an international strategist, retailer and venture capitalist. Today, he heads up Futurelab in Belgium, a strategic marketing agency.

Alain says the place to start is thinking about what “marketing” really is. If it means advertising, then he says spend as little as possible. The exception would be obtaining “free” or earned ads from media outlets.

“If you count marketing as ‘growing fundraising by building a strong relationship with funders and building word of mouth’, I would say you should spend ‘every penny you can spare’ and I mean that,” he says.

“If asked for a fixed percentage, I would say anything between 6-10% sounds fair as a rule of thumb.”

Alain notes that for larger non-profits it is possible to build models to estimate the impact of additional marketing investments. For smaller Non-Profits, he advises keeping track of two things.
  • Building a personalized relationship with your donors. “ You’d be amazed how much extra you can get out of people already giving you money,” he says. 
  • Activating your promoters in the community of donors. “People are proud to be contributing to your cause, so give them stories and angles to actually talk about this and bring in others.”
Jonathon Grapsas is Regional Director North America for Pareto Fundraising, an international company that has worked with charities like Sick Kids Hospital Foundation and the Canadian Red Cross.


Jonathon says most Non-Profits don’t give marketing its due. “Usually because of an unnecessary fear about the need to keep costs low. In my experience there is typically a direct correlation between those who spend the most and those who generate the most net income. More net income means more benefactors helped,” he says.

He says Non-Profits must look beyond a simple percentage for their marketing budget. The budget question has no simple answer. It depends on where you want to go.

“Investment should be determined by growth objectives (particularly, how quickly they want to grow), and how comfortable the organization is with various levels of risk.”

What’s your opinion? Send in your comments below.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How much should you be spending?

Your marketing strategy?
Here’s an question sure to start an argument at your Non-Profit. Gather people around and innocently ask them what their organization should be spending on marketing and communications next year. Then stand back and wait for the fireworks to begin.

In and out of your organization there are those who believe that spending at a Non-Profit, and especially a charity, should be on services. The idea of spending on marketing offends them. Then there are those who believe that while marketing and communications is important, it should be held to the bare minimum. For them, this function has limited value. This is partly due to the fact that many of them don’t understand it and partly because they have seen such terrible marketing efforts in the past that they have very low expectations. And finally, there are those who understand marketing and want to use it, but can’t find the money to do it properly (mostly because of the others mentioned above).

Now, some sobering statistics to add fuel to the fire. According to a 2008 study by the American Marketing Association and Lipman Hearne, most Non-Profits with budgets under $5 million spent less than $50,000 on marketing and communications. And of those with operating budgets between $5 million and $20 million a third still spent less than $50,000. The study concluded that half of those Non-Profits polled had less than $100,000 in their marketing budgets.

While the study found that overall marketing budgets were typically 2% to 3% of the organization’s overall operating budget there was in fact great variation in spending. For example, more than half of Non-Profits in social service, health and advocacy with operating budgets between $5 million and $20 million had marketing budgets under 1%. And a third of those under $5 million in operating spending had marketing budgets of between 5% and 7%. In short, the averages didn’t tell the story. Non-Profit marketing spending is all over the map.

It would be nice to find a benchmark for your organization. For example, in some retail markets there are very reliable figures. A marketing budget of 10% of sales is not uncommon. Benchmarks for Non-Profit marketing aren’t exactly reliable. For example, I’ve seen some in the hospital field and they were useless.

So where does that leave your Non-Profit?

Here’s how you should do it. For lack of a better number, start at the 2%-3% level. Then, think about what that gives you. For example, on an operating budget of $150,000 that’ll give you a marketing program of between $3,000 and $4,500. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that kind of spending doesn’t amount to much. An ad, a mailing, a new website, some signs and the budget is gone. However, if your operating budget is $1,000,000, your marketing program would be between $20,000 and $30,000. That is more manageable.

Now, add a new level to your marketing budget deliberation – value. Ask yourself what you’re actually getting for that spending. Is it enough to get the job done? With the $150,000 example above, the answer is obviously “no”. If you answer in the negative, follow up by asking what would it take to get to where you want to be. This will make you think critically about what kinds of marketing you need and how to get them. Don’t be afraid to spend more than 3% if it will give the value you want. But of course, the more you spend, the more of a target your marketing budget will be for those who “poo poo” on all marketing and communications. Be prepared to justify yourself.

One thing that will help you in all of this is adequate metrics. Your deliberations about value won’t mean anything if you don’t know what exactly it will give you. More on that in future blogs.

At the end of the day, you need to be flexible. Marketing is an investment. Some years, you will need more, others less. Keep your eyes on the prize, not the costs!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mobile Marketing is more closer than you think

Is this the next big thing?
Most of us old geezers have only now begun to feel comfortable with things like Facebook. It wasn’t that long ago that I signed up for Facebook. Now, everybody is using it. It reminds me of the first Internet page I saw and my first email. Yes, I’m that old.

But if you think the world is going to slow down long enough to let you catch your breath on new technology than you are sadly mistaken. While you’re still trying to figure out what a tweet is, the earth is moving under your feet. Welcome to the next big revolution – mobile technology.

Simply put, your entire world is moving into the palm of your hand. You may not know it yet, but it’s already arrived. Not too far into the future, everything that you do will be through a wireless device that you take with you wherever you go. Watching TV or movies, talking to friends, being part of a social media circle, playing games, learning new things, paying your bills, buying and selling – all of these things will all be done through your mobile device.

The statistics show that today’s mobile devices (many of them still just unsophisticated cell phones) are already changing the landscape.. Four out of five Americans now have a cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone or other device that is also a cell phone. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, texting is one of the fastest growing methods of communicating. Texting by adults has increased over the past 9 months from 65% in September 2009 to 72% in May 2010. Adults who text typically send and receive an average of 10 texts a day. Compare that to cell phone use. The average adult cell phone owner makes and receives around 5 voice calls a day.

If you think that is interesting, think on this. Teens who text send and receive an averageof 50 texts per day. Pew says the mobile phone has become the “favored communication hub” for the majority of American teens. Some 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones, up from 45% in 2004. Fully 72% of all teens are text-messagers. That is a sharp rise from the 51% of teens who were texters in 2006. More than half of teens are daily texters. One in three teens sends more than 100 text messages a day.

Interestingly enough, calling is still an important function of the cell phone for teens, but for most use the phone part of their mobile device as the primary mode of conversing with parents, not each other. Girls also used the cell-phone and all its functions more than boys.

Having a mobile device isn’t just for the young. Pew found that one of the main triggers for adult use is having children. Parents with children under 18 in the home are more likely to own a cell phone than non-parents, and more likely to make 5 or more calls per day than non-parents though they do not text more overall.

All this means that Non-Profit marketing just got harder. It means that more and more people, especially young people, are spending more time texting than going to your website, opening your email or reading your print newsletter.

And worse, most mobile devices are harder to market to. The arrival of anti-spam laws in Canada coupled with our already tight privacy legislation means that mobile marketing is more permission-based than many other mediums. In other words, they really need to want your marketing message before you send it. Not only that, but Pew found that people who use mobile devices think differently about them than other things like email. Two in five cell-owners say they feel irritated when a call or text interrupts them. Nearly two-thirds of adults with cell phones say they have received unwanted or spam text messages on their phone, which I suspect is more perception than reality.

So, in your next Non-Profit marketing plan include a section on mobile devices. The time may not be right yet to make your own smart phone app or run a text-based promotion, but that day is coming. You need to be ready for it. Start by taking a hard look at your web infrastructure and email offerings. Make sure they can be accessed by mobile devices easily. For example, a lot of websites that use Flash (the stuff that makes images move on a website) have a tough time working on mobile devices. They take too long to load. Also, try asking your clients what mobile technology they use. Get some early data on usage from the people who give, support or use your Non-Profit services right now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What really happens at the ad agency

Here's a little humour about ad agencies and Non-Profits.

See my video "Cool"

I was in advertising once, and while this is a bit over the top it isn't too far from the truth. Don't buy cool. Buy experience with Non-Profits. Buy strategy. Then, get cool. Enoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Give them what they want

Old Spice YouTube campaign
What is the secret of marketing? We all marvel at the ultra cool things happening in marketing – the “why didn’t I think of that?” stuff. Likely, you can remember one or two ad campaigns that really stuck with you. When I was a kid, the biggie were Coke commercials, such as “I want to teach the world to sing”. More recently, I’ve laughed at the Old Spice YouTube campaign. How do they do that? And can we do that at a Non-Profit?

The challenges are obvious. Most Non-Profits don’t have a huge ad agency. They don’t have a huge marketing budget. In fact, for most Non-Profits, they don’t have much of anything at all. Then there’s the obvious – where do they start? Even if they had bags of cash lying around the office (which I hope you have declared to Revenue Canada), how do they make this stuff?

The answer is complicated. And frankly, many of my contemporaries in marketing seem to make it so. Forget the theories, the cool tools and the million dollar buzz terms. Use this simple mantra instead.

Give people what they want.

I want to teach the world to sing
You can never go wrong by asking your target audience what they want from you and then delivering it in a way they find valuable. This is a lot tougher than it sounds.

First, it means you have to change your frame of reference from what you and your Non-Profit can offer your audience and instead start thinking about what your audience wants from you. That means asking them. A lot of them.

Then, you need to figure out how to give it to them. It might mean changing the way you do things. It might mean junking some of the concepts you take for granted. It will involve trial and error. And don’t think of this as mere window-dressing. When you give these people what they want, you’ll have to put your whole organization into it.

That being said, the results can be transformative and trend-setting. When I worked for a hospital foundation I never really thought I was really connecting to our donors until the day I convinced everyone to start an email newsletter by asking our audience what they wanted from us. Turns out they didn’t want the usual stuff we pumped out about the latest big gifts or the boring column from the Foundation CEO. Donors said they wanted health information – research, new services, and the latest health news. I realized that we had struck a nerve.

You can do the same.

Start by asking some of your stakeholders what they want from you and see where it leads you. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When it comes to ads, the house always wins

Advertising is like gambling. The house always wins. By this I mean that the odds of scoring a big victory with your ads are not particularly good. Don’t get me wrong, ads do work. But times have changed. The world of advertising is more complicated now than it was just a few years ago. Finding success with advertising is harder. This is especially so for non-profits.

Want a bet your ad will be effective?
Look at the forces stacked against you. First, there’s the media, which have been fractured almost beyond all recognition by the Internet revolution. Readership, listenership and viewership at your local media outlets are all down. More people are getting their news, entertainment and lifestyle information elsewhere, chiefly through the Web. Some of the people in your own community don’t read, listen or watch any local media content at all. They get everything from media beaming in from elsewhere. New technology is complicating things. Now, anyone can be in the media business online, further crowding the marketplace. And new technology means that some media are being left behind. It wasn’t too long ago that a number of local TV stations in Ontario weren’t on satellite TV services, or were in a satellite channel packages most people didn’t buy. Satellite TV can have as much as 50% penetration in some Ontario cities. That meant that half the population weren’t getting their own local TV stations at home. When technology changes again, it will likely be going mobile and it will likely be leaving a number of media outlets behind in the process.

If that wasn’t enough there’s the issue of saturation. On average, you and I receive some 3,000 ad messages a day. That’s more than two every minute. Some are very big, like billboards. Some are very small, like the icon on the computer I’m working on right now. Your ad is just one in a sea of ads. And chances are, with all that competition, your humble non-profit ad will not be the one that will rise to the top. Big retailers spend millions to make their ads memorable. Let’s face it, most of the ads that come from non-profits are boring. How can they compete? A fallout from all this is that ads have a very transitory nature. We as consumers have been conditioned to digest ads quickly and move on to the next one. The staying power of any ad seems to be getting smaller.

Finally, there’s cost. Back in the days when mass media was king a single ad was so effective that it didn’t matter what it cost. A TV ad on the right 1960’s show would reach and motivate millions. Don’t believe me? Just ask a boomer to recite their favourite TV ad jingle or slogan from when they were kids. That was then. Today, mass media is dead. Reaching the same number of people is going to cost more because media outlets aren’t as powerful as they once were.

So, when you have to advertise, do some hard thinking. Placing ads is not a problem, it’s choosing where to put them that is the trick. Before you do a knee-jerk reaction and call the media outlet you read or listen to, ask what do your customers read and listen to. Making an ad is not a problem, either, it’s making one that will stand out in a crowd. Before you start creating your ads look at the others that it will likely be competing against – even those which are not in competing marketplaces. Ask yourself, if you were someone else, would you want to read your ads? If the answer is no, then go back to the drawing board. Spending money on ads is not a problem – it’s easy to spend lots of money. Ask yourself what am I buying and how effective will this really be? Odds are that you will have to use multiple ads with multiple media outlets to get noticed. In other words, to get the push you really want, it may be necessary to go big or go home. That’s an expensive proposition for any non-profit, but it’s better than spending money on a continuing basis for a few ads that no one will ever see.

Advertising is a powerful tool. And it can work wonders. The trick is to do your homework before you call the ad salesperson.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Face time on Facebook?

Just a short Blog from me before I leave for a week to take my daughter to the Ontario Summer Games. This one is on Facebook.

I once worked for a large public institution in a communications management role. Facebook was still relatively new (at least to me), but I knew it was a place I had to take our communications program. So, after a weekend thinking about it, I went to Facebook early one Monday morning at work and tried to start our corporate Facebook page.

I couldn't even get to Facebook. The IT guys at my institution had blocked it and all other social media. It all came under their "you can only use the institution's computers for work purposes" policy. Facebook access was taboo.

Undaunted, I called IT and explained what I was doing. I asked what it would take for me to get access to Facebook. It turns out I had to write a letter to the head of IT asking for permission to get on Facebook. The whole process took a week.

I finally got on and started working on the page only to find out that several links and buttons on the page didn't work. I called IT again and they told me that likely these were being blocked because they led to other social media sites that were taboo or because they led to different URLs within Facebook that I hadn't asked permission to visit.

I struggled back and forth with this for a while. For example, I could start a page, but I couldn't upload any images. After a while, I decided to make Facebook a low priority. I just didn't have time to work through all the glitches.

Social media shouldn't be this hard.

If you really want your non-profit to succeed at social media you need to embrace social media as an organization. If you can't Facebook, Tweet or do anything else at work, then your social media program is bound to fail.

Social media is like email or the photocopier once was. Business used to worry that employees would be doing personal stuff, like sending emails or making copies, at work. While it's still an issue, it isn't the problem that some thought it would be.

The bottom line is that the more your people use social media the more value it will give to your organization. Encourage them to Facebook and Tweet. Set some limits, but get them all online. Then when it comes time to create your social media program you'll be ready for  it, and your employees will be eager to help.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My corporate Facebook page sucks less than yours

The one question I get all the time is about social media. Everyone asks the same things. Do I need a Facebook page? Should I Tweet? What should I do about Social Media? 

Check out Sidthetalkingpig at Facebook
I tell people that I have answers, but they are asking the wrong questions.

Social Media is one of those really cool things that everybody thinks is an answer in itself to the challenges of non-profit communications. The reasoning is simple. Everyone is doing this stuff, so should we. And it does sound really cool to say that you Facebook and Tweet, just as it sounded really cool when your organization got its first web page or first email newsletter. But the reality is somewhat different.

Too many non-profits get into social media because it is a fad. They don’t understand the strategy required or the new opportunities to communicate it creates. Like a kid in a candy store, they just want it. Needless to say, many of these Facebook pages and Tweets aren’t very good. They’re boring. They lack vision. They don’t get updated very often. They have about as much in the way of social media power as a piece of furniture.

In my time, I have been guilty of all this and more. But I’ve grown up and so has social media. The way forward is clear to me. It starts with the real question, “What can we communicate through social media and what value will it give our organization?”

Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?There’s a book I’d recommend called Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin. In it he argues that the what social media requires us to actually rethink the way our organizations do business.

“Most of the time, despite the hype, organizations fail when they try to use this scattered approach. Organizations don’t fail because the Web and the New Marketing don’t work. They fail because the Web and New Marketing work only when applied to the right organization. New Media makes a promise to the consumer. If that organization is unable to keep that promise, then it fails,” Godin writes.

You want to know about Facebook and Twitter? Start with the strategy. What do you want to say and how is social media going to say it. Then figure out whether you can truly make a commitment to it. If you are just jumping on a bandwagon because others are, wait. Do social media right or don’t do it at all.

By the way, I don't actually have a corproate Facebook page. I do have a Linkedin group called Canadian Non-Profit Marketing. Go there and join the discussion.!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The two words that can change your donors’ brains

We all know why donor recognition is important. People who are honoured in even a small way are more likely to give again. That’s why most charities offer donor recognition programs, such as giving membership circles, listing the names of donors and such. Most of this activity is usually focused on the larger donors. The small meat and potatoes donors usually get a modest thank you card or letter followed by a subscription to the charity’s newsletter and a free space in the “They gave once, they may give again” section of the charity’s database.

It’s widely believed donor recognition works along the lines of positive reinforcement, but that may not be true. Think about it. What makes a powerful reinforcer? The science of reinforcement, pioneered by Pavlov and Skinner, was drilled into my head during my psychology degree at UofT, so the answer comes easily to me. Usually, it is a reward of significant value to the donor. For Skinner’s test animals, the reward was food. It also has to be timely to be effective. For example, a dog must be rewarded with a treat immediately after doing a new trick. And it has to be very much behaviour-based – they complete an action, then they get a prize.

In reality, most of the donor recognition programs at Canadian charities don’t have many of the qualities of positive reinforcement. Their rewards, which for most donors usually amount to a few words on a piece of paper, don’t really have much value. They are also very often badly timed. They are sent out days, if not weeks later after the event. It is only recently, that things like automated online giving has begun to change this. And not all of these rewards are in fact behaviour based. There are many reasons for making a donation which really don’t amount to a conscious decision to support the charity. In things like third party giving, often loyalty to the person asking for the gift or the activity at which the donation is generated is the reason behind it all.

So what is it that makes donor recognition work? The answer might be found in the science of the mind, specifically how memories are created, stored and recalled in our brains.

Our brains are not DVDs. They do not record memories like a movie and then recall them flawlessly every time (and there are no special features!). Thinking is in fact a complex mix of both thought and emotion, and most often it is unconscious. According to “How Consumers Think” by Gerald Zaltman, things like cues, goals and imagination plays a big part in the reconstruction of memories. Therefore, it is possible to influence how a memory is recalled. Zaltman says what consumers recall and what their actual experience was will differ if marketers can refer to those past experiences in positive ways. This is called Backwards Framing.

For example, Zaltman talks about a study which exposed consumers to ads after they had purchased a product and it effected their memories of their purchase. Every new encounter alters a donor’s recall of the prior experience. Every donor interaction is an opportunity to positively “change” how and why the donor made the gift in the first place. Donor recognition may work because it positively changes the recall of the memory of that gift. In other words, people may think more positively about their initial gift after being thanked for making it.

This opens several doors to understanding donor recognition. First, it means that you can’t thank donors enough for their gifts. And you can’t say enough positive things about their generosity. Far from it, it might be that a key to keeping donor loyalty is to go out of your way to thank them. On the flip side, it also means that every interaction a donor has after their gift will have a major impact on their giving. A customer service problem with a tax receipt may wind up negatively changing the way the donor thought about their gift in the first place. That’s something that won’t easily be undone.

The bottom line is that there’s no better message to your donors than saying “Thank you.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Branding is not a religion. But you can go to Hell for it.

I was once part of an organization that undertook a national branding exercise.

The first problem was the selection. The communications director just picked a branding agency she knew and liked from her days as being a political hack (I don’t think there was a agency competition).

The company was a national firm, and their branding guru came to a meeting of volunteers and staff from across the country to talk to us about branding. The man’s message was very seductive. Branding, he said, was not just a form of identity, it was a mantra for the entire soul of the organization and all its people. In short, branding would change the way people inside and outside of the organization feel. The line that stuck with me was that “staff will come to work with a new spirit, a new attitude, a new way of feeling.” Branding was more than renewal, it was an opportunity for rebirth.

When it came time to make the brand, an agency person called each board member on the phone to interview. They didn’t call the organization’s clients, they didn’t interview random frontline staff members or volunteers. The nice lady who called wanted to know what the board members thought about the organization, but also all about their childhood and their favourite colours (I think it was colours, might have been favourite numbers...I’m not sure anymore). The actual “branding” consisted of having a single group discussion with the board and some senior staff members. Someone came up with a rather snazzy line and that was what the agency used. As far as I know, they didn’t test it to see what the rest of humanity thought.

The brand that the organization came up with amounted to a very nice logo and a tag line. You will be shocked to know that it didn’t transform the organization. People didn’t come to work feeling transformed and full of positive energy, they still were worried about the direction the organization was headed in and they still griped about it. The entire world didn’t start thinking about this organization in a new way – they still pretty much ignored them. In fact, at roughly the same time the organization went through a radical re-organization that almost split it apart. The brand simply made the internal memos and the low-traffic website look better.

Papa Smurf -- The ultimate brander
The lesson here is that branding is not a religion. It does not have magical powers to transform an entire organization and paint everything with a brush of happiness and positive energy (the one exception being the Smurfs). Branding is important, because any organization needs some kind of identity. But it is vastly overrated. Most branding in itself doesn’t do much of anything.

The reason is the assumption that branding can change the way people think or feel. It just doesn’t work that way. Yes, it can evoke thoughts and feelings, but it is actions that an organization wants. At the end of the day, you want your customers or clients to do something, not just think or feel it. You want them to send in a donation or become a volunteer or write their local politician asking for your funding to be restored. Thoughts and feelings are transitory, but actions are not. Organizations change, making the idea of creating a single, all-powerful, never-changing brand hard to swallow. And you can measure actions, but thoughts and feelings are hard to quantify.

So, what do you want your brand to do? You want it to evoke an action or behaviour. You want it to start a conversation or create an interaction. And if it can’t do that, don’t worry. If all you get at the end of the day from your branding exercise is just a fancy new logo and a slogan, that’s an accomplishment. Don’t expect your brand to carry the weight of the world and judge your investment of time, resources and human capital in it accordingly.

Ultimately, it is what your organization does, not what it says, that will make the real impact on your target audiences.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The news editor who used to read your press releases retired three years ago. Now, they just go into the garbage.

We all know about PR, don’t we? You just write up a few overly-complex quotes that sound like a committee wrote them and add some very long sentences that use very, very long words, and, presto, it’s done. You send it to every journalist, reporter, editor, news reader and publisher, alive or dead. Then they either print every word or assign their crackerjack, but sympathetic reporter to do a cover story about you. The next day, you’re smiling on the cover of the newspaper. Sound familiar?

Forget it. Doesn’t work anymore. In some cases, it’s not even worth the effort.
I say this as a former award-winning journalist and editor. I worked for a decade in newspapers and broadcasting. I respect the media. It fulfills a very important public services. But as a communications channel, it sucks, pure and simple.

That’s because the world has changed, and so, too, has the media. Today, the media has fractured into a billion pieces. There’s fewer local media outlets, but millions of others on the Internet. And there’s lots of newsletters, emails, and blogs as well. It’s messed things up so that local readership and listenership is down, but we’re all consuming more news than ever. An interesting twist is that many of us now get all our news from away – we don’t read, watch or listen to any news from our home town. And the media that is out there is so saturated with ads that finding your story is like looking for a fig leaf at a nudist colony. It’s around somewhere, you just have to find it. The bottom line is that the audience who used to consume local media just aren’t there as much as they used to be.

If that’s not bad enough, the media itself has changed. They’ve all cut their newsrooms. The experienced old hands are now gone, replaced by young, inexperienced reporters or even interns. Space for news has shrunk – fewer pages, shorter newscasts, etc. And they don’t have the resources to do much more than the headlines. Their stories are mostly reactive – fires, drowning, car accidents and the like. In short, the media itself just isn’t there as they used to be to help you in your cause. Unless, of course, your cause happens to be on fire, drowning or in a car accident.

To seal your fate, there’s the myth that free publicity is cheap and easy to obtain. You used to believe this, others still do. That means every non-profit, government agency, politician and business out there is also writing press releases. So, the media isn’t just getting your press release, they’re getting literally hundreds of them. At the same time.

So, what are the chances your press release will actually get some traction in the local media? Depending on the story, it can be pretty dismal, even zero.

The solution is not to give up on press releases and media relations. It can still work. And for some non-profits who serve a public role, such as hospitals, social service agencies and the like, it is part of their mandate to talk to the media. No, don’t abandon press releases, but do understand that it has limited value. Don’t expect your press release to work every time. So, don’t base your entire communications program on it.

Use your press release in conjunction with other communications channels (more on that in future Blogs). Find other means to hit your key audiences.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The World has Changed. Your Non-Profit Communications hasn`t.

I`ve spent 12 years in communications working for a variety of clients from universities and hospitals to governments and local charities. And what really strikes me about non-profit communications is that after all that time not much has really changed. Yes, we all have better looking websites and many of us have Facebook and YouTube pages, but deep down the same strategies are at work. That`s why non-profit communications are becoming increasingly irrelevant and why organizations don`t get much in the way of value from them.

That`s why I`m writing this Blog.
 It`s obvious to me that the world has changed. I started in marketing and communications and at an ad agency in Fredericton in 1998 (after a decade as a journalist) and I knew that things were about to change. That`s the year that Google was founded. It was the beginning of the dot-com boom (soon to be bust). Email was still very new – I only had my first email a few years previously. We`ve seen so many changes since – broadband, faster computers, multimedia, social marketing and more.
 When you look at every other business function at a non-profit you know that the world has changed. Internet revolution has changed everything from finance and policy to purchasing and customer service. But not communications.

Most communications shops I know think the same way they did in 1998. They never met a problem that they couldn`t solve by writing ten-thousand words in a press release no one will read. They believe the media is still an effective communications channel (which it isn`t). They are staffed by mostly ex-journalists who know how to write stories, not create out new communications channels. They don`t understand that mass media is dead and that because of things like Internet search the real power lies now with the consumer, not the marketer. They are reactive, hardly ever proactive. They use new technology, but only in ways that fit their old mindset, and not in the way that really pushes the envelope (PDF newsletter by email anyone?). They cling to the perspective of their own organization instead of trying to relate to their target audiences on the audiences’ terms. They jump on bandwagons like Facebook or Twitter without much thought to how to use them effectively. They don`t measure much of anything even though the world has gone metrics mad. And, worse of all, they think communication is a one-way activity – they talk, but they don`t listen (the organization says this, the organization says know the drill).

What non-profit communications really needs is a new way of thinking to match the new world it is operating in. In this Blog I`ll take you there. We`ll explore what`s really happening and how your communications can really change.

I invite you along for the journey. Send me your questions and ideas and I`ll answer them. Listen to me think out loud and tell me if you agree or disagree.

Let`s begin.