Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations
Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

For a Strategic Planning class at Quinnipiac University, we were required to read Ronald Smith’s Strategic Planning for Public Relations.

And so it was … okay.

In all honesty, I do not expect public relations textbooks to be laugh riots or thrill rides.

However, one area ended up being rather frustrating.

On page 95, Smith writes, “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.” On pages 93 – 94, he writes, “Strategy is the organization’s overall plan.” And on pages 225 – 226, he says tactics are the visual elements of a public relations or marketing communications plan.

What Are You Saying, Mr. Smith?

First of all, to my mind, I saw great deal of overlap. Hence I feel that much of the book could have been better condensed. And essentially, I feel, the strategic planner or public relations expert wants to follow an organization’s general goals. For example, an organizational goal could be to get more exposure.

Plus they want to achieve this with special attention to specific objectives. Such as, they might want to increase awareness by 6% during calendar year 2017. And then add the nitty gritty of tactics. E. g. the strategic planner might believe they can accomplish this by tweeting every other day following a particular plan. And that seems more or less to be it. However, it did not take me over 400 pages to tell you that, now, did it?

However, in all fairness, there were some good parts in the book. Furthermore, the sections on SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PEST (political, economic, social, and technological factors) analyses were very good. And you do not have to be in the public relations field in order to be able to use that information. But man, it could sure use some editing.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future

The future? Well, more specifically, I mean the future of the Lonely Writer website.

Adventures in Career Changing | Lonely Writer | Speculating about the Future
Speculating about the Future

Wait, what?

So as some readers may recall, I started that website as my capstone project at Quinnipiac University. I needed the project in order to graduate with a Master’s in Science in Communications (social media). Well, graduation happened in August of 2016. However, I had paid for the domain until the end of March of 2017. It seemed silly to try to cancel early.

But now it’s March of 2017.

Changes

Hence I want to change things up. My life has gotten considerably more busy since I graduated. I currently hold down four part-time work from home jobs, all centered around various tasks having to do with blogging. I also podcast every month and I blog for that podcast and for its parent podcast. Furthermore, I still blog about social media and even about fan fiction.

In addition, I still write and still work. I always try to get more of my work published. As a result, I just plain don’t have the time for yet another domain. Most noteworthy, I’d also like to save a few bucks. This project does … okay. Yet Adventures in Career Changing does better.

Therefore, I realized: I should combine the two.

What Will Happen?

The Lonely Writer YouTube channel and Facebook groups will both live on. And the Twitter stream won’t be going away, either. They do not require as much work as a separate blog. Plus, they are also free of charge. I am only talking about the other domain and those particular blog posts.

So, where are they going? Why, they are coming here! As a result, the blog URLs will change, and the blog posts themselves will be removed for later re-posting. I will change them up, too, so they will be more up to date. That’s all. So don’t worry, okay? That advice and that work will not go away. It’ll all just move here, down the street. I am excited about the move. I think it will help to freshen up Adventures without losing the focus, which is altering my career and also embracing social media. And the writing-related posts, of course, will give that more of a writing bent. That’s all.

Thank you so much for reading.

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

This week, the focus shifted to the practical application of the academic readings. The emphasis was placed squarely into the real world.

Key Concepts of Strategic Planning – Industry versus Academic Readings

Perhaps the most industry-related reading of the week was Ashkenas, Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning. Unlike the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) approach covered in the academic readings, Ashkenas leads with a kind of off-shoot of implementation and evaluation, wherein he insists on first field testing to evaluate assumptions.  While the academic readings, such as Smith, seem to save the evaluative process for either the end of a campaign or the middle of one (say, after a major milestone or after an iteration), Ashkenas pushes for a form of evaluation to happen even before a campaign gets off the ground. As Smith notes, on page 331, “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.” Outcomes, by definition, come at or near the end.

Smith goes on further to say (page 331), “The key to creating any program evaluation is to establish appropriate criteria for judging what is effective. This research plan considers several issues: the criteria that should be used to gauge success, timing of the evaluation and specific ways to measure each of the levels of objectives (awareness, acceptance and action). It may prescribe the various evaluation tools, and it also should indicate how the evaluation would be used.” Yet the timing in Smith seems clear – the campaign has to be complete or near completion or at least running on all cylinders and then it’s time for an evaluation. Not so with Ashkenas, who gets it out of the way early in order to prevent the creation of a campaign based on faulty premises.

Another Ashkenas tip is to ‘banish fuzzy language’, e. g. to torch weasel words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy.’ For Ashkenas, a campaign plan needs to be straightforward, such as laying out clear and unambiguous goals and relating them directly to an organization’s stated mission. Similar to Anderson, Hadley, Rockland & Weiner’s objectives, e. g. “(a) clear and shared sense of purpose distills program tactics and focuses financial and human resources on those areas on which they have the greatest impact.” (Page 5), Ashkenas seeks to narrowly focus an organization’s campaigns. The plan is not much of a plan if its language is impenetrable. HootSuite, on page 2 of their Guide for Social Media Strategy, voices a similar call for clarity, where they say, “(a)ll business planning should start with defining clear goals, and social media is no exception. One of the biggest reasons why social media strategies fail is because goals aren’t aligned with core business values. For long term success on social media, choose goals based on traffic, leads, and sales.”

Wilkinson’s Four Steps – Relating them to the Academic Readings

Turning to Wilkinson, he outlines four major steps in what he called a Driver’s Model for strategic planning.

RPIE
SWOT analysis diagram in English language. Français : Matrice SWOT en anglais. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first step is to perform a situational assessment, which is a lot like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. As defined by Williams, “(a)t its most functional level a SWOT analysis will help you obtain information and assess a situation.” Wilkinson adds some specifics to this basic form of preliminary analysis, wherein he provides fairly universal questions for a strategic planner to use when assessing an organization’s customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and more. Wilkinson provides more of a roadmap in this area than Williams does.

The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics and turns to broader organizational data such as vision statements, mission statements, goals, and objectives. These are far more organization- and industry-specific, so a generalized statement about them would not be of much help to a strategic planner. Smith, on page 41, defines a vision statement as looking, “to the future. It is a brief strategic description of what the organization aspires to become.” And a values statement, according to Smith (page 42), “is a set of beliefs that drive the organization and provide a framework for its decisions.” Hence, again, Wilkinson’s methodology is congruent with the academic readings from this semester.

The third step is implementation planning, whereby Wilkinson performs a somewhat modified PEST Analysis. While Wilkinson does not look at all Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors, the implementation plan he touts is similar. He urges the strategic planner to investigate the barriers to achieving an organization’s vision. He also suggests developing key conditions (between two and seven) that must be met in order to consider a campaign to be successful. The roadmap combines the two, as the strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” The implication, also, is that a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan needs to either be changed of jettisoned from the plan.

The fourth step is the monitoring of progress, much as is included in the Smith and Anderson, etc. readings, and in Dr. Place’s paper, although Place notes an ethical element must be included in evaluating campaign plans, on page 129, where she states, “(t)he role of ethics in public relations evaluation, according to participants, is to guide practitioners as they conduct truthful, effective evaluation and weigh an organization’s needs with its publics’ needs. Ethics’ role appears to be most salient during the reflection or reporting phases of program evaluation.” For Wilkinson and the other readings, evaluation is a crucial step. Otherwise, how is an organization to truly know a campaign’s effectiveness? And, more importantly, evaluation is the only real way for an organization to be able to intelligently determine whether a campaign should be budgeted for another year, or if it should get the axe.

Relating RPIE to Business, Social Media, and Communications Industries

RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) relates directly to all industries, it seems.

In the business world, particularly in light of Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires financial accountability and transparency, clear and well-defined research and evaluation are paramount requirements. Corporations cannot simply throw money at a problem; they have to have a plan and that plan has to demonstrate a reasonable chance of success. While not everything works, a campaign plan with germane and well thought out research has a far better chance of success than one where the dice are rolled. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.

In the case of social media industries, research and planning can make the difference between staying in business, or not. For a social media organization such as Facebook or Twitter, to not understand their buyer personae or how their platforms are used is a recipe for a platform going under. In a way, this seems to be what has happened to Myspace. For a social media organization which was originally heavily social and popular, Myspace missed the boat, did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity, and did not plan beyond its own website. According to Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, Myspace also fell down because it never made itself particularly business-friendly. Planning and evaluation could have helped Myspace keep Facebook from eating its lunch.

In the communications field, implementation is perhaps the most vital of the four pieces. Communications is obviously all about messaging, as is strategic planning, and these organizations are often adjudged – fairly or unfairly – based upon image, message, and look and feel. In communications organizations, research and planning have to cross the implementation finish line. Understanding what a communications organization’s publics are interested in, and planning to give them what they want, is not enough if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation

In the real world, RPIE does not just apply to strategic planning. It can apply to nearly every aspect of a business or nonprofit organization.  So much of what we see online was tossed out there with little thought to how it would look in a year or in twenty. So little of it is altered or updated when new information or technology mandate that changes be made. An organization of any type can set itself apart by following RPIE principles in all aspects of its existence.

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest

This week, I decided to look at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Background

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) describes itself as “a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.”

Strategies and Tactics

The CSPI mainly uses proactive communications strategies in an effort to present a positive image to its publics. As Smith, on pages 130 – 140 writes, one proactive strategy is newsworthy communications. And on page 113, Smith indicates that a proactive strategy enables an organization to launch a communication program under the conditions and according to the timelines that seem to best fit the organization’s interests. E. g. this includes generating publicity, presenting newsworthy information, and developing a transparent communications process.

For the CSPI, one significant communications strategy is to showcase their past accomplishments. Making a case for future donations, the Center outlines how it has been fighting for consumers since 1971 (although the listed accomplishments only date back to 1973). Current communications are made on the organization’s blog, FoodDay.

Tactics include the existence of an online community, which a visitor to the site is urged to join every time they refresh the page. However, it doesn’t seem to be forums (which would be expected). Rather, the community might be the Facebook page or the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the organization’s newsletter. It’s hard to say; the site is unclear about whatever this ‘community’ is supposed to entail, and what sort of power they might wield, if any. It seems that their tactics encompass organizational media as outlined by Smith on page 229. A community should be able to engage in a degree of give and take, but the Facebook page doesn’t seem to have much in the way of responses to posters, and the newsletter is an even more one-sided method of organization communication.

If I were strategic counsel for the organization, the community would be a real community, with actual give and take. Tweets would be answered, as would Facebook posts. The public would not be ignored.

Main Publics

The organization’s main publics are people concerned about food safety for themselves and for their children. Hence parents are a component but not every communication is geared toward them. A side interest for the organization’s publics is an overall concern about health, as the front page of the website has links to articles about supplements, dieting (a huge online interest – just Google the word ‘diet’ and you get nearly half a billion hits), and rating coffee house foods. All three of these articles seem to be targeting nonparents, whereas articles on school lunches, candy at checkout counters, and children’s restaurant menus seem to be squarely aimed at parent publics.

Effectiveness

Effectiveness seems to be mixed. As noted above, urgings to join a community reveals that there really isn’t a community to speak of. The Facebook page and Twitter stream both spew content but don’t answer community queries or engage with the community (although, in all fairness, there was a November 26, 2015 tweet wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

The Pinterest profile is a bit better in that a lot of the pins come from offsite or are repinnings. The Healthy Thanksgiving pinboard is colorful and attractive without being overly busy and precious like Pinterest pins can sometimes be. It did not look like a lot of impossible to re-create craft items, and instead was filled with practical recipes.

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest
English: GMO cultivation 2008 Deutsch: GVO Anbauflächen 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The CSPI’s image does need some help, though. While their rating on Charity Navigator is a respectable 3/4 stars, a quick Google reveals two significant criticisms of the organization. AlterNet reveals that the CSPI is against labeling GMO foods as such. A PDF on the CSPI site bolsters this statement, wherein the CSPI appears to be endorsing a statement that GMO foods are not harmful and thereby don’t need any form of special identification.

The other, and more significant critique, comes from AlcoholFacts.org. In a well-researched (albeit seemingly slanted) article, Alcohol Facts states, “Center for Science in the Public Interest distributes its reports without peer review, contrary to the way real science operates. … Without peer review, an advocacy report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That’s exactly what Center for Science in the Public Interest does.”

The CSPI does not seem to have reacted to either criticism. Could this be the deliberate inaction strategy as outline by Smith on page 145? Or did the Center just drop the ball?

Tying it back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the Center’s website provides some lessons on how to proceed. For one, when mentioning a community (and mentioning it ad nauseum, as the prompt to join their community comes up with every single page refresh), the Center is writing communications checks that it is not cashing. Why say something is a community when it so clearly is not? The ILSC needs to pay attention to its communications promises to its publics. Calling something a community does not make it so – communities are defined by shared bilateral communications. Weinberg & Pehlivan (2011), on page 277, define a community’s (and other social media) objectives as including “Conversation, sharing, collaboration, engagement, evangelism”. That does not happen when a public is talked at.

The ILSC can also take away the idea of developing a means of reacting to online criticism. The AlterNet and Alcohol Facts critiques of the Center are not going away. Not addressing these criticisms does not do the Center any favors. Instead, the Center looks as if it does not care about what is said about it, and its ignoring of the posts by its own Facebook and Twitter followers bolsters that impression. In order to stand out and better serve its own publics, the ILSC has got to not only listen to its followers, its fans, and its critics – it also has to answer them.

Added Applications of the RPIE Strategic Process

For the RPIE process (e. g. Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation), the review of the Center’s website and their other online presences reveals that implementation cannot be overlooked. All the research and planning in the world does not amount to much if an organization does not seem to do anything with the available information out there.

The Center is shouting. Its community does not seem to be a community at all. Imperfect implementation is to blame, but at least that can be fixed.

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 527 – Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 527 – Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences

This week, we looked at some more campaigns, from InScope, Toms Shoes, and the Century Council.

Comparing InScope, Toms, and the Century Council Plans

InScope, is a “user-friendly search engine is dedicated to finding peer-reviewed, academic research among Belcher Rollins’ publications, back-dated to 1960. This equates to 27 million document entries.” (Page 4) Note: Belcher Rollins is a publisher.

The campaign for InScope focused on planning. The idea was to become and remain an online solution for librarians and academics. Enumerated goals (Page 9) were:

  • “To generate substantial interest in InScope from academic librarians, in order to support sales: positioning it as the best in the market and ‘a new generation in research’
  • To generate understanding and support for InScope among industry influencers and opinion leaders
  • To strengthen Belcher Rollins’ position as the brand leader in international academic publishing, underpinning its reputation for innovation and quality
  • To manage communications around contentious issues within scholarly publishing: (a) pressure on academic financial resources and criticisms of profiteering by publishers, (b) the lobby for open access publishing and (c) international censorship”

Events were planned with an eye toward attracting media coverage. There were a large number of internal communications planned, in order to keep the key stakeholders informed, e. g. librarians, academics, academic budget holders (the people with the money), and the media. The budget exceeded £2M, which currently converts to over $3.8M.

Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences
TOMS Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Toms campaign, in contrast, had a markedly different look and feel. InScope was traditional and felt conservative, whereas Toms felt somewhat casual and even crunchy and hippie. Toms is a shoe creator and seller (they also sell other accessories such as purses and necklaces). The company’s mission is to donate a pair of shoes to charity for every pair purchased. The donated shoes are sent to children in countries such as Argentina. As the plan itself noted, on Page 30, “When a customer interacts with the TOMS brand, it is more than just buying shoes.”

The Toms objectives were to increase sales and repeat purchases, and to boost brand awareness. For Toms, the tactics included using the opening of new stores as events, although, in contrast to InScope, these events were not touted as a means of involving the media. Further, the Toms plan acknowledged the organization’s nontraditional stance in the media as being an opportunity (Page 15). Other tactics were even more grass roots, involving an email list, a shoe drop, and even posters. The Toms budget clocked in at a far more modest $17,420, although a lot of the biggest ticket items (such as the use of a plane for the shoe drop) were not enumerated among the planned expenses. Planning seemed looser, perhaps in keeping with the organization’s more relaxed overall philosophy.

For Century Council, the main goal was to kick off a new website to reach collegians in particular and help change attitudes about drinking. A further goal is to reduce underage drinking and drunk driving. The plan emphasized segmentation, whereby college students were divided by age and by activity (e. g. athletes, members of Greek letter organizations, etc.). The website would be specially tailored for each participating school. The tailoring was broken down further for age groups, as the message differed, being zero tolerance for those under 21 years of age, and responsible drinking for those over. The budget was in excess of $8.9M. In some ways, this campaign split the difference between InScope and Toms, at least in terms of presenting a strict and staid presence like InScope did, yet relying less on traditional media (one of the ways Century Council was looking to reach its publics was through a pizza box advertisement), like Toms did.

Each plan had a lot of the components of what we have been studying all along, from careful research into publics to clear-cut goals and objectives. Budgets were carefully laid out, although the one for Toms was incomplete. The timetables for all three campaigns seemed realistic.

Reading the Plans and Recognizing their Components

There were some language alterations between the plans as presented and our readings. InScope in particular used a lot of synonyms. Goals were enumerated as aims, for example. All three campaigns laid out their SWOT analyses clearly, using an easy to follow grid format. Evaluations for all of the campaign plans were clearly labeled.

Formatting and Stylistic Takeaways applied to the ILSC

The Toms plan in particular took advantage of a stylistic look and feel which mirrored the organization’s view of itself. The plan contained images of the founder, Blake Mycoskie, in Argentina, with children that the organization has helped. These images helped to add an emotional component to the campaign plan that was missing from the other two plans.

The Century Council plan was more generic-looking which seemed to reflect almost a PTA budget kind of communication. This tied in fairly well to the campaign being related to what happens on college campuses. By having the formatting look this way (and it may not even have been intentional), the campaign called to mind straightforward academics and straight talk.

The InScope campaign, in contrast, was poorly formatted. Word allows for headings which make navigating a document a lot easier – the campaign didn’t have those. The spreadsheet denoting the timetable was a bit wide and threw off other formatting. It was walls of text with little formatting or emphasis, and no imagery to speak of. Word also makes it easy to create a dynamic table of contents whereby a reader can click on a part of the table and be taken directly to the desired section of a document. The campaign did not take advantage of these simple yet powerful formatting tools – the campaign’s typist could use an intermediate course in Microsoft Word!

For the ILSC (Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration), the website is already rather bland. They are doing interesting things, such as teaching youth around the world, possibly finding cures for all kinds of fatal diseases, and potentially saving lives in Ghana. This is exciting stuff, yet the walls of text make the site look industrial, sterile, and unfeeling. There can be stylistic symmetry between the campaign plan and the look and feel of what the ILSC website should be all about. The ILSC needs to show its heart.

Visual impressions matter, particularly online. There is no reason why the ILSC cannot get started by making the campaign plan easy to read, well-indexed, and visually appealing.

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

This week, we continued studying the evaluation of public relations campaigns.

Ethical Issues Regarding Evaluation

As is true for any presentation of numbers, there are ways to spin findings which can lead a reader to believe one thing or another. Numbers can be used to make a case, and some numbers, if suppressed or deemphasized or just plain omitted, could alter organizational decision-making. This only gets into telling the truth with numbers. All bets are off if a strategic planner or any sort of analyst out and out alters the figures they have to present, or if they weren’t given accurate or truthful numbers to begin with.

But even if the analyst is completely honest about results and figures, there are still issues with emphasis and language. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the initial purpose had to have been to increase the sale of canned goods. Instead, the campaign was labeled as a success for leading to an increase in awareness of canned foods. While awareness is a perfectly legitimate (and objective) goal for a campaign, the goal of increased sales seems to have been swept under the rug in favor of the one, demonstrable, favorable outcome – a boost in awareness.

On page 125, Place notes, “The role of ethics in public relations evaluation was described by participants as inherently associated with truth and fairness. For some professionals, this meant conveying evaluation data accurately and truthfully to organizational leadership or clients. For other professionals, this meant measuring whether the most accurate story or brand image reached an organization’s publics.”

Professionals, fortunately, realize that their words can be misinterpreted, even if they are reporting accurately on the numbers. If a campaign increases, say, signups for a class by five over an initial figure of five, then how is that reported? Is it a report of a new five signups, or does the professional state that signups have doubled? Both are mathematically correct, but there is an exciting spin to the latter which may be making it look more significant than it truly is.

The Real Warriors and Okay 2 Talk Campaigns

A review of both campaigns revealed good attention to detail. Both campaigns seemed to be rather carefully planned.

The Real Warriors Campaign was designed to encourage active armed services personnel and veterans of recent American military campaigns (since 9/11) to seek psychological counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress disorder, e. g. ‘invisible wounds’. Primary research included focus groups and key informant interviews. All of the campaign’s goals were awareness-based. The goal was to decrease stigma felt by veterans seeking mental health assistance.

The measurement of the effectiveness of the campaign included the distribution of campaign materials, website visitors, and social media interactions, plus news stories. This is good for an awareness campaign, but where are the actions? Where are the increased numbers of veterans seeking help? A far more germane measurement would be to show an increase in personnel hours for armed forces mental health professionals. Or perhaps there could be a measurement of the hiring of more counselors, or agreements with more civilian counselors. Without naming names or otherwise violating privacy, the number of patients being seen could be readily tallied, as could the number of appointments made, even if some of the appointments were never kept. Another objective measurement of success would be a decrease in suicides and fewer calls by veterans to suicide prevention hotlines. The campaign shows none of that.

Continuing Program Evaluation
Tumblr dashboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the OK 2 Talk Campaign, that campaign’s goals were to create awareness and also to launch a safe social media space. Tumblr was the chosen platform as it allowed for anonymity. It seems to have also been chosen for a demographic match although that is not spelled out.

The measurement of the effectiveness of that campaign was a lot more closely aligned with its initial goals than the Real Warriors report showed. For example, the OK 2 Talk report gave objective figures regarding engagement on OK2Talk.org. The page views are not necessarily indicative of much. It is the content submissions which seem to better reflect engagement. On the Tumblr blog, visitors are encouraged to anonymously post about how they are feeling. The blog makes it clear that not everyone’s writings will be posted. However, there are several well-written or illustrated posts showcasing various viewpoints. OK 2 Talk intelligently shows all kinds of posts, even those where the writers clearly need help or are just reblogging messages put together by creative professionals.

The campaign report shows the number of content submissions and the number of clickthroughs to a ‘get help’ screen. There is also a statement regarding ‘thousands’ of comments but no specifics; that could have been more clearly shown. But that does not truly matter. Showing the number of clickthroughs to the ‘get help’ screen was an objective and direct measurement of how the campaign is going. It answers the question, ‘did it work, or was it just a colorful and fancy waste of time?’ with ‘yes, it did’, and far more effectively than the distribution of materials ever could. As Smith notes on page 335, “Guesses aren’t good enough; Hard work and cost aren’t measures of effectiveness; Creativity isn’t, either; Dissemination doesn’t equal communication; Knowledge doesn’t always lead to acceptance; and Behavior is the ultimate measure.”

In particular, Real Warriors should have remembered that dissemination does not equal communication. After all, the distributed campaign materials could have gone right into the trash. Without some demonstrated actions (yes, the campaign’s stated goal was awareness, but it could only really be measured with some form of observable action), Real Warriors seems more like a lot of paper redistribution.

The two campaigns have similar goals, and both have the valiant ideal of helping the mentally ill. But it’s only OK 2 Talk which is showing objective and relevant results.

Relating it all back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, deciding what to measure, and to make sure it is being accurately measured, are important steps to take. While it is pretty easy to count website visitors using Google Analytics or the like, a better measurement is actual engagement like blog comments, Facebook comments and shares, and LinkedIn comments. This will tie directly to awareness objectives.

For objectives regarding adding high schools to the Small World Initiative, good measurements include the number of times that educators click through to a ‘get information’ page which should be added to a revamped website. Such inquiries could also be expected in the comments and messaging sections of a possible future Facebook group devoted to the ILSC. A similar vehicle for obtaining such inquiries could be a possible future LinkedIn group for the ILSC, and its topics.

Measurements of the campaign reaching donors could be a look at the number of visits to a donations page. It would also be the percentages of site visitors who went all the way through the online donations funnel. Knowing where they stop (if a visit does not lead to a donation) would be extremely helpful information to have.

For the website, Google Analytics should be used to tie back to visitor acquisition. If Facebook turns out to be the most popular place for visitors to come from, then the ILSC should be concentrating their efforts there. A surprisingly small amount of money (e. g. $20.00 or so) can boost a post and reach even more people. This measurement is useful for all types of objectives, as it helps to define where the ILSC’s social media time should be best concentrated. There is little use in devoting hours and hours of time to LinkedIn if the publics don’t come to the website and don’t donate any funds. Awareness needs to be related to action, for it is action that will get the SWI out of its funding gap and help keep the ILSC going for years to come.

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Program Evaluation

This week’s readings were about evaluating a strategic plan and program.

Key Concepts

As Smith said, on (Page 331), “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.”

With a plan in place and measurable, clear objectives included in it, the next question is whether anything is working. This comes from figuring out how to measure results and what’s ‘good’ or at least adequate. In Module 8, we studied Cans Get You Cooking, where the idea was to increase awareness of cans’ use in cooking via cooking shows and blogs. However, another objective was increased sales (after all, why bother with such a campaign if sales don’t increase?), and in that respect the plan was unsuccessful. According to Companies and Markets, the purchase of canned goods declines because of improvements in the economy. When consumers have more discretionary income to spend on foodstuffs, they purchase fewer canned goods – no matter how well-crafted a campaign is. There was increased awareness, yes, and under that criterion, the campaign worked. But under the criterion of increased sales, it did not. It seemed a little as if the goalposts were moved in that campaign, that increased sales were seen as being a less attainable goal. Awareness was a far more readily attainable goal, and so awareness was presented as being the premise behind the campaign.  

These moved goalposts are the difference between what Smith refers to as awareness and action objectives, on pages 332 – 335, with the third type of objective, acceptance, straddling a line between both of the others. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, it seems as if the attainment of the awareness objective was the only cause for celebration.

Smith makes a compelling case on page 334, that creativity, effort, and cost don’t count as measures of effectiveness. All of those facets of a campaign are on the side of the organization, but measures of awareness, acceptance, and action are all effects felt (and acted upon) by publics. By definition, creativity, etc. should not be seen as having anything to do with the effectiveness of a campaign.

The Eight-Step AMEC Social Media Measurement Process

Jeffrey (Page 4) outlines, “The Eight-Step Social Media Measurement Process

  1. Identify organizational and departmental goals.
  2. Research stakeholders for each and prioritize.
  3. Set specific objectives for each prioritized stakeholder group.
  4. Set social media Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) against each stakeholder objective.
  5. Choose tools and benchmark (using the AMEC Matrix).
    • Public Relations Activity
    • Intermediary Effects
    • Target Audience Effects
  6. Analyze the results and compare to costs.
  7. Present to management.
  8. Measure continuously and improve performance.”
Quinnipiac Assignment 10 - ICM 527 - Program Evaluation
Avinash Kaushik, author of Web Analytics 2.0

This process compares favorably to methodologies learned in ICM 524 – Social Media Analytics. In that class, we read Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. On pages 29 – 32, Kaushik outlined his Step 3 – Identifying Your Web Analytics Soul Mate (How to Run an Effective Tool Pilot) (average time: 2 years) Evaluate the following –

  • Usability
  • Functionality
  • Technical
  • Response
  • Total cost of ownership

Also –

  • Get enough time
  • Be fair
  • Ask about data sampling
  • Segment like crazy
  • Ask about search analytics
  • Test site content grouping
  • Bring on the interns (or the VPs!)
  • Test support quality
  • Reconcile the numbers (they won’t add up, but it’s fun!)
  • Check the daily/normal stuff
  • Sweat the TCO (total cost of ownership)

What Kaushik said, and what Jeffrey said, are similar. Measurement is an objective activity. This is why objectives need to be clear and measurable. Five percent is measurable; better exposure (in general) is not.

For both authors, the idea is to have specific objectives and then act on them, whether those objectives are to launch a strategic campaign or select a web analytics vendor. Then, once the vendor is chosen, get the yardstick in place, and use it. Kaushik further reminds us that, while our intention may be to select a vendor and essentially ‘marry’ it, we still need to be evaluating the evaluator. If it’s not performing up to our reasonable specifications, then it’s time for vendor divorce court.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

On page 7 of Jeffrey, it says, “Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology (www.holtz.com) defined a KPI as a ‘quantifiable measurement, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors of one’s effort.’”

This puts KPIs on a par with what we have been referring to as objectives. Wanting to ‘get better’ is one thing. But it’s vague and subject to weaseling. Wanting to improve recognition of the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration  (ILSC ) and its missions by 5% as is measured by surveys taken during the second quarter of 2016 is a measurable key performance indicator. Anyone who can read numbers will be able to determine whether the KPI has been met.

Applicability to the ILSC

Beyond just recognition measurements, there are any numbers of KPIs which can be measured, including the number of schools served by the Small World Initiative by a certain date, or increasing donations by a particular amount, subject to a clear deadline.

Currently, the ILSC website in particular seems to be just sort of thrown together without any sense of how to deal with technological and design changes, or scalability. Keeping measurements out of the mix means that the ILSC website can be tossed up and then forgotten about – and it seems a lot like that’s exactly what happened. However, a website cannot be a flash in the pan, as that can cause the publics to feel the organization behind it is also fly by night. Particularly when asking for money, an organization needs to give forth the impression of trustworthiness and solidity.

Adding Key Performance Indicators and measurements means there needs to be a sea change in how the ILSC views the website. It isn’t just something thrown together in an afternoon, to be handled by some temp hired for a few weeks and then never seen again. Instead, it needs to be an integral part of the organization. While the organization’s work is (generally) offline, there still needs to be room for the website in the minds of the organization’s board members. One facet of their thinking has to include how to best utilize the website and social media, in order to better communication the ILSC’s mission and goals, and to communicate with its publics. The website has got to have a place in those conversations, and it currently does not. That has to change.

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 527 – Strategic Plan Implementation

Strategic Plan Implementation

This week’s readings were all about getting a strategic plan off the ground.

Main Author Points

Smith; Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden; and Weinberg & Pehlivan all make the salient point that present-day marketing has to be conversational. The marketer needs to not so much ‘talk at’ or shout the message to an organization’s publics as opposed to engaging in the give and take of conversation. Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden further note that once initial connectivity is achieved, it’s got to be maintained. Weinberg & Pehlivan see this as the social currency and return on investment (ROI) of social media marketing – the strategic planner can’t just start a relationship with members of a public and then drop them and run off when they see the next shiny new toy. Smith also provides the nuts and bolts of putting together a plan and working on it with others in an organization.

The Weinberg & Pehlivan graph on media process elements provides an excellent rundown on the differences between tradition and social media in some key areas. It further serves as a reminder that trying to tie social media activities to traditional media standard measures of ROI is an apples to oranges comparison that does not quite work –

Weinberg & Pehlivan (Page 277) Table 1. Media process elements

  Traditional Social
Media Television, radio, print, billboard, etc. Social networks, blogs, microblogs, communities, etc.
Spend Cash, cost Social currency, trustworthiness, authenticity, transparency, investment
Delivery Direct from marketer, unedited From source, delivered by volition of, and in words selected by, source
Objectives Awareness, knowledge, recall, purchase, etc. Conversation, sharing, collaboration, engagement, evangelism, etc.

Key Concepts

An analogy: in writing, it can sometimes be difficult to get started. Chapter 1 can be the most difficult chapter but, once it has been started, the rest of the story flows smoothly. But the writer needs to maintain the momentum, or he or she will be getting started multiple times.

This week’s readings were all about getting a strategic planning campaign implemented. Yet they were also about the importance of maintaining such a campaign.

As Smith reminds us, on page 304, “You don’t need to be tied into a chronological implementation scheme just because you selected interpersonal items before those in the other categories. Let the natural relationships among tactics determine how they fit into your plan.”

The plan should be fluid, much like a conversation. Even formal interviews and legal depositions allow for a give and take between the communicating parties. The strategic plan is no different.

Smith makes a case for simplicity and a focus on the most distinctive element of a given program.

Strategic Plan Implementation
English: levers or dimensions of social currency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden (Page 267) add, “In other words, marketing can no longer solely be about capturing attention via reach; instead, marketers must focus on both capturing and continuing attention via engagement. This calls for a blend of both traditional and social media.” For Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, the relationship and attention have to continue. Showing up one time in a public’s news feed or otherwise on their radar is not enough. Rather, the strategic planner needs to get up and do it all over again, the next day, and the next.

Weinberg & Pehlivan further the point in mentioning that there is a balance. One Page 279, they discuss the specifics of the Harley-Davidson Twitter feed. One point they make is that this Twitter stream only tweets about once per day. Hence Harley-Davidson’s publics get a small nudge and information (often the information is not sales-related at all and, instead, is about racing results and the like) but aren’t overwhelmed by continual, unrelenting sales pitches.

Applying this Information to the ILSC and the Phase 2 Plan

For our client, the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, the plan is more or less being drawn up from scratch, so getting organized, as Smith has specified, is Job One. On Pages 310 – 325, the Smith readings give a rundown of creating a Campaign Plan Book, and adding a campaign schedule and timeline of tasks.

Timing means announcing breakthroughs and providing Small World Initiative sign-up information at the start of scholastic semesters and even over the summer when high school teachers might have a slight bit of free time to investigate such programs. It also means publicly thanking donors and not overwhelming them with constant nagging to donate more (like public television used to do).

One of the main purposes for using social media to convey the message to the ILSC’s various publics is because of the social currency that can be attained through meaningful dialogue. If the social media relationships are good, then the ILSC will benefit, much like the offline networking that President Rick Flath deftly performs every day. With more traditional media – which can also be a part of the overall plan – the rewards include increased awareness. As we had learned in Module 6, fee-for-service nonprofits (organizations such as the YMCA, which is not-for-profit, yet sells services such as gym memberships), the use of traditional media could facilitate helping the ILSC embrace a fee-for-service model if they liked, e. g. for small charges for Ghanaian medical care, or for textbooks and other study materials via the Small World Initiative. Traditional advertising could also increase awareness of the Small World Initiative’s existence and mission. This advertising need not even be on mass media television or radio or print. What if it were in publications geared directly to educators and educational administrators, such as principals? That way, the message would be better targeted to the publics most interested in it. As for the Ghanaian half of what the ILSC does, messaging could be performed through traditional media there as well, including in neighboring countries such as Togo and Burkina Faso.

For the ILSC, a straightforward schedule could work rather well, to roll out social media and traditional media initiatives on a planned, timed basis. This would keep the publics informed without overwhelming them with too much information or seeming pushy. Plus, equally importantly, it would not break the ILSC’s budget.

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 527 – Communication Tactics

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 527 – Communication Tactics

Key Concepts

As Smith says on page 227, “A communication tactic is the visible element of a strategic plan.”

Smith mainly talks about more traditional means of communicating with publics, dividing the methodologies and strategic communication tactics into working with organizational media, the news media, or utilizing advertising and promotional media. Some of this applies pretty seamlessly to social media, whereas other aspects do not.

With organizational media, the questions are of the type of organizational control and ties, e. g. is the media internal like a company newsletter, and is it controlled? Is it for a targeted media (targeted buyer personae) or the mass media? Is the communication via popular media (e. g. The New York Times) or trade media (Variety)? Do the communications go only one way, or are they interactive (the hallmark of social media)? Is the media publicly or privately owned, and what type is it, e. g. print, electronic, or digital?

The question of popular versus trade media applies well to social media. Is a message intended for Google or a mainstream blog, or is it being disseminated in a closed forum or a specialty Facebook group?

Smith goes on to bring up planning and various events for communications, such as special events (an art exhibition’s opening, for example) or contests. Planning involves putting together print publications such as press kits, electronic communications like podcasts, digital media like websites, and social media, like blogs or wikis.

One tactic deserving of special mention is creating a ready to broadcast bit of media for a news outlet, such as a news fact sheet or a video B-roll. Smith explains, on page 276,“One of the most frequently used categories of news media tactics is direct information subsidy – information that is presented to the media more or less ready for use.” For news producers facing deadline pressure and needing to fill a ravenous 24 hour news cycle, ready-made media is most welcome.

Applying These Tactics to the ILSC

Putting together ready-made press information would be a great way for the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration to get more positive press. A reporter looking to prepare a piece on the HIV crisis in Ghana is not necessarily going to have the time to gather the best images and most articulate patients for a story focusing on the ILSC. Even if the ILSC just provides names and contact information, that can make the difference between a story not being written at all, versus one that is not only written, but shows the ILSC in the best possible light.

The same is true for the Small World Initiative. Rather than making a reporter dig to find the contact information for educators, why not provide it for them? It’s up to the reporter, of course, to decide whether to pursue the story at all. But why not lower one of the hurdles?

Case Study Tactics

We looked at three case studies this week, “Giving Tuesday”, “Cans Get You Cooking”, and “Search for Amazing Women”. 

Giving Tuesday was all about a campaign to take advantage of the spending momentum that annually swirls around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It dovetailed well with increased giving impulses that tend to coincide with the holiday season and the end of the calendar year. The 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation found the following from their research: (Page 2) “Our initial secondary research showed us that in 2011, Americans gave almost $300 billion to favorite causes, but total dollars donated had yet to rebound to pre-recession levels. People were spending, though: Holiday retail sales were increasing at a rate of 3.3 percent a year. And we know that people are willing to give if asked.”

The campaign, which was communications on social media which spread the word, was a success. According to the case study, “on #GivingTuesday, nonprofits raised amounts up 63 percent over 2013 on five major donation-processing platforms. Based on initial results from Blackbaud, U.S. online giving was up 36 percent among its clients, compared with #GivingTuesday 2013 (to $26.1 million), and it saw a 15 percent increase in the number of nonprofits that processed online donations.”

Communication tactics
Canned goods in the subsidiary company store. The supplies in this store were ample and prices were competative with… – NARA – 540841 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Cans Get You Cooking, the idea was to increase awareness of cans’ use in cooking via cooking shows and blogs. It was a well-coordinated online marketing campaign in particular, which   (Page 3) “implemented campaign’s Search Engine Marketing initiative, targeting consumers on Google already searching for ‘what to make for dinner’ or ‘easy recipes,’ among hundreds of other key word/phrase triggers, driving them to CansGetYouCooking.com, where they were exposed to campaign messages, the 30-minute special with Kelsey Nixon, canned foods recipes and much more.”

After reading the case study a few times, the thing I could not find was anything about sales. There was more interest in buying canned goods, but there’s nothing in the study about any actual increase in purchases. I was able to find a survey online (A Look Inside America’s Cantry) but still nothing about dollar figures.

I was also able to find a survey about the sales of canned fruit from 2011 through 2014 inclusive, and the numbers did not fluctuate significantly. And according to Companies and Markets, the purchase of canned goods declines because of improvements in the economy. When consumers have more discretionary income to spend on foodstuffs, they steer away from canned goods – no matter how well-crafted a campaign is used. It seems that Cans Get You Cooking was least effective where it really counted. 

The Search for Amazing Women was an effort to draw a defunct competitor’s customers to Christopher & Banks; a clothing store catering to women aged 40 – 60. The campaign included using Facebook to target key demographics (age and gender) such as military wives and professions traditionally dominated by women, including nursing, teaching, and dental hygienists. Competitors were also targeted, as were mentions of breast cancer (men can get breast cancer, too, but women make up a good 99% of all diagnoses). A look at the Christopher & Banks website reveals that the campaign is ongoing, which fits in well with page 3 of last week’s Vocus article, which mentions creating and maintaining a steady and consistent presence and not just dabbling.

Did it increase sales? According to the campaign, not only did sales go up, but the number of qualified leads increased. On page 3, the campaign notes its results were, “Created new brand-loyal customers through the contest: 2 grand prize winners and 6 runners up were non-customers. Since being named Amazing Women, the winners have posted pictures of themselves and friends at CB stores and shared CB promotions on Facebook. • Added 4,656 qualified prospective customers to the CRM database for future marketing efforts, with the goal of converting them to active customers. With this group added prior to the critical 2014 holiday season, the company achieved their holiday sales goals.”

Unlike the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the Search for Amazing Women showed demonstrable and actionable results.

Applications to Other Coursework

In most of our other ICM coursework, we talk about reaching buyer personae and even about identifying them, but the nuts and bolts often seem to be left out. This week’s readings detailed not only plans, but how they were executed. The Search for Amazing Women targeted its key demographics with real out of the box thinking. After all, women posting on Facebook about breast cancer might not be seen as a viable market, but of course they need clothing. The Cans Get You Cooking campaign went in a different direction by working with Kelsey Nixon and adding some celebrity appeal and the kind of authority behind messaging mentioned in last week’s Vocus reading. The less than successful nature of that campaign seems more to do with the improving economy than any fault on the part of the strategic planners responsible (sometimes a great campaign just falls flat or has unexpected results). And the Giving Tuesday campaign piggybacked on its public’s natural generosity impulses to create a successful campaign.

My other courses have outlined theory. This week’s readings, in particular, demonstrated practice. The road map has arrived.

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 527 – Message Strategies

Message Strategies

Social Media Message Strategies
The Medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan

With all due respect to the late Marshall McLuhan, the medium is still the message, but the message is now also the medium and the two are now joined at the hip, at least when it comes to social media.

As Smith notes on page 172, the communication process can be divided into three types –

  • Information – press agentry and public information
  • Persuasion – asymmetric advocacy and attempts to influence
  • Dialogue – symmetric, rooted in relationships

Information is a one-way street. E.g. I tell you that the world is round. You hear my message and either agree or disagree with it, or perhaps you request further information or even a second opinion. However, the relationship is not a symmetrical one, as I am feeding you data but you aren’t responding in kind and I am not getting information back from you.

In the persuasion model, things are even more asymmetrical. I’m not just informing you of the roundness of our planet; I’m making a case for it, whether it’s with photographs taken from space or images of the shadow from eclipses over the moon, or even the results of a public opinion poll.

For the dialogic model, however, the information and persuasion both flow, and in both directions. I might put forth the premise of the earth’s roundness; you might counter with personal observations or even your own survey. The entities in communication can trade opinions or information or both. On page 173, Smith refers to dialogue as a “deeply conscious interaction of two parties in communication.” This is give and take.

Our messages are not just verbal or written ones; they include our tone, our word choice, and our body language, according to Smith, pages 212 – 214. There is a measurable difference between referring to the same medical condition as shell shock, battle fatigue, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as George Carlin famously said.

This is the kind of doublespeak mentioned by Smith on page 211 that seems to embody the worst parts of public relations.

Messengers carry different degrees of weight as well. Astronaut testimony of the roundness of the earth should carry more credibility than a raving madman on a street corner somewhere. As the Vocus  article puts forth on page 3, “Not all online conversations carry the same weight. Many will have no impact on your company and not every mention of your company or brand will require the same amount of attention. The trick is to understand what does and does not matter. While a discussion on the latest product release or customer feedback may be worth engaging in, other discussions may be trivial and will not require your participation.”

Social Media Message Strategic Approaches

The Vocus idea to pay selective attention is good advice. It offers a model for cutting through the noise. As social media professionals, strategic planners need to listen to their publics but also discriminate intelligently among the many messages being promulgated.

Vocus also mentions creating and maintaining a steady and consistent presence and not just dabbling (Page 3). This dovetails well with the Smith idea (Page 182) of familiarity adding charisma to a speaker, where personal charm enhances a message and gives a public a feeling that it is more likely to be correct or helpful. The message and the messenger can only be familiar if they are consistent and not dilettantish.

This is perhaps the most important tip from Vocus, to not give up when social media becomes dull or burdensome or the ideas have run out. There has to be a commitment there.

As Mundy 2013 adds, on page 387, “Social movement and public relations research share similar goals: to investigate communication practices that develop collective understanding between organizations and publics, and to examine how organizations position issues as legitimate in the eyes of diverse stakeholders.” This development of collective understanding – dialogue – brings an organization closer together to its publics. Once the publics see why supporting the organization’s positions is worthwhile, they will need far less persuading. The equal, bilateral dialogue will do all the work.

Applications of this reading to our client

The most obvious application to the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC) is that adding a social media presence means preparing for the long haul. It means budgeting for at least a part-time Community Manager to research strategies, keep up with industry trends, listen to the public’s concerns and questions and weed through the noise, and help the ILSC to demonstrate thought leadership. As I had mentioned last week, Rick Flath has got to be a master networker (which was confirmed by Professor Place), as a tiny company doesn’t get the ILSC’s opportunities unless an individual is very charismatic. Now the ILSC needs to translate some of that networking, and charisma, and thought leader power to social media.