Sunday, August 21, 2011
WHY YOUR COMMUNICATIONS SUCK – PART 5
Suck (suk) verb. Be very bad
This is the final installment, in a series of five DISPATCHES’ articles, to address the subject, “Why our communications suck.” It was prompted by a participant to one of our Leadership Communications workshops who jutted his chin and threw out a challenge, which he disguised in the form of this question, “Can you tell me why my communications don’t work?” I responded, “Yes, of course. Your marketing communications suck.”
In this 5-part series we have covered:
- The Essential Creative Brief, which provides the appropriate strategic direction for messaging;
- The Campaign Idea, which dramatizes the strategic messaging (identified in the Essential Creative Brief), in compelling customer language;
- Execution, which is crafted to showcase the Campaign Idea, cut through the clutter, engage the target-customer and create strong brand linkage; and
- Coaching, which consists of assessing the creative work and commenting on it (i.e., providing direction to the creative resource team).
This final article in the series deals with process, an often over-looked element of managing the development of communications. Process is a well thought-out sequence of carefully designed actions intended to enhance the likelihood of producing a predictable outcome. However, the standard operating process for the development of communications is mindless. Little, if any, thought is given to it. The standard operating process consists of doing the same things, in the same way, that they have always been done. But doing the same things in the same way seems to be producing the same undesirable outcome – communications that suck! Instead of recognizing the role that process plays in influencing the poor quality of their outcomes and, in turn, fixing it, clients blame their agencies for poor performance. Agencies blame their clients for being blind to recognizing and appreciating effective communications.
Both client and agency (and this includes internal communication managers) need to ensure that they are working from a well thought-out, quality process. Here are some of the process factors, or lack thereof, that contribute to poor outcomes:
- Not mapping out, or keeping to, an appropriate timeline – It takes time to develop leadership communications. How much time? This needs to be worked out with your communication professionals. They know best about this subject. Then we work backwards from the time we need to launch our communications with clear steps, roles and responsibilities. There’s a timeframe for strategy development, research, creative development, assessment and direction, more research, production, market performance analysis, etc. We need to avoid late starts to the timeline, overrunning the time designated for any of the action steps, NOT providing the creative resource team with ample time for development, and NOT providing time to determine if the communications work to achieve the Communication Behavior Objective for the target-customer.
- Dueling Creative Briefs – This is when there are two briefs, not one, but two directing the work: the client’s creative brief, and the agency’s. If there are two briefs then there are two sets of directions and very, very rarely (to the point of being non-existent) are they in agreement. Without single-minded direction it is virtually impossible (again to the point of being non-existent) to produce communications that will serve the expectations of both client and agency.
- Absence of a firm commitment to the Creative Brief – The CB does not contain signatures from the senior client manager responsible for approving the creative product and/or the senior agency manager responsible for delivering it. They need to acknowledge their commitment to the direction in the CB by signing it. The lack of commitment, evidenced by the absence of their signatures, will likely lead to false starts, and working-out the strategy while undertaking creative development, as opposed to focusing on delivering big ideas against it.
- Absence of validation – GIGO, “garbage in, garbage out.” Opinions are taken as fact. What we think is the customer insight is not a legitimate, and/or productive, insight. What we think is a relevant and meaningfully differentiated point-of-difference benefit is neither. The CB is a piece of fiction that reflects the conventional wisdom as opposed to facts. We need to validate through some form of marketing research. This is not to suggest that marketing research has the answer or that we should not use judgment based upon our knowledge and experience. Instead, this is about ensuring that we gain important input from customers to inform our judgment and help iterate our way to success.
- Execution precedes idea generation – Once the agency is turned lose to begin creative development, work is undertaken on developing executions (i.e., print or digital comps, storyboards, etc.). But before we marketing clients entertain “execution” we need to focus on, and address, ideas. More specifically, the Campaign Idea is the thing that should precede the development of execution materials, which are costly, time consuming, premature, and undermine the opportunity for collaboration.
- Absence of clear standards for each step in the process – No only does there need to be a time standard but we also need to have performance standards that represent “go” or “no go” points along the way. In other words, if we don’t have a firm commitment to achieve the CB then we don’t begin creative development. If we don’t have Campaign Ideas then we don’t commence with execution development.
- Inexperienced marketers managing the process – It takes a skillful marketing manager to successfully direct and manage the development of leadership communications. Marketers driving the process, and approving the work (which includes senior managers) should know how to properly assess creative work and provide appropriate direction. They need to be good coaches. If we don’t have skilled managers we cannot expect to produce favorable outcomes on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, many managers participating in the process believe they have the skills when, in reality, they clearly do not.
- Allowing people who can’t say “yes” to the creative product to say “no” – Creative resource teams are often subjected to presenting creative to junior level people who do not have the authority to say “yes” to it but can say “no,” miring the agency in endless revisions that bog down the development process.
- Too many layers of approval – Agencies typically are forced to run the gauntlet of sharing their work with numerous levels of management. This adds considerable time, often without adding value. In practice, each layer, and the resultant revisions, introduces “creeping decrementalism” to the process, undermining the productivity of the work. One way of dealing with this is to drop the levels that can’t say “yes,” or cannot influence approval of the creative work.
- Not seeking options – Options are a good, very good thing to have. Options ensure that we are considering alternate ways to connect with our target-customer. Options provide us with a basis for gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for what will, and will not, work to stimulate target-customer behavior. Options provide us with more opportunities to win.
- Absence of validation – We are repeating ourselves here, purposefully so! Validation needs to take the form of creating a dialogue with target-customers and adapting the creative work as appropriate. The dialogue paves the road for iterating our way to success.
- Selling versus involving senior management – Senior managers do not want to be sold. Instead, we senior managers want to share our experiences and insights, and see them reflected in the work. So we need to involve senior managers from the start and keep them engaged throughout the process. If we don’t allow senior managers to collaborate we will be forced to undertake more revisions, extending development time and making it more arduous physically and emotionally. Besides, those senior managers (who are skillful in managing communications) can add value to the work that we would not want to miss.
- Client and agency work independent of each other – We are a team. Both the client and agency can add appreciable value, leading to the development of highly effective communications. But we are more likely to be successful if we work together, if we collaborate. This means that we develop the CB together. It also means that we get involved in the idea phase, not developing ideas but assessing them early in the process, as opposed to coming in to “evaluate” (thumbs up or down) execution.
- Absence of validation – Here we are appearing at a different point in the process. Are the communications working in the marketplace to achieve the Communication Behavior Objective? We won’t know unless we analyze and measure results against our expectations in the marketplace.
- Changing campaigns too soon – We get tired of our work long before our target-customer does. Or we may succumb to pressure from the sales force, particularly if there is a new competitive entry in the marketplace or if they are having difficulty in achieving quota. If we don’t validate we won’t know if we should or should not be changing our communications campaign and beginning the process anew.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
We need a quality process for managing the development of communications if we are to produce quality outcomes. The quality outcome we seek is not just to avoid developing communications that suck but, instead, developing leadership communications. The process is broken and needs to be fixed. Here are some suggestions for your consideration:
1. Review the communication development process with your communication (internal and/or external agency resource) teams: Make certain that you have a process, it is a quality process, and that everyone understands who will participate along with their roles and responsibilities. Your process should provide appropriate time for development (as determined by the agency!) and include gates, with clear performance criteria, for proceeding to the next activity.
2. Include a “tissue meeting” step in the process: What’s a tissue meeting? It’s the agency sharing Campaign Ideas, not executions, with the client in very, very rough form. You’ll recall from our training programs and/or previous DISPATCHES’ articles that the Campaign Idea is the most important element of the execution. It is a key ingredient in leadership communications. The tissue meeting is, admittedly, an extra step in the process but it is a step that will save time and help you achieve more, and better quality, ideas!
3. Collaborate: How we work, or don’t work together, impacts the outcome. We need to change the old way of managing the communication development process to get away from evaluating the agency’s work (which tends to promote criticism and contributes to the development of an adversarial relationship) to collaborating in the development of the work. We not only need to collaborate with the agency but also with our senior management.
4. Stick to the process: Nothing works if you are not working at it! So adhere to the process steps, timing and criteria for each step. Make sticking with the process a priority. This means stay involved and engaged physically and mentally.
This completes the series. We hope you found “Why Your Communications Suck” informative and helpful. . If you missed any of the previous articles you may revisit them by clicking on the following links:
Don’t hesitate to call us if we can be of assistance with process design or refinement, communication development (e.g., Creative Brief development, assessing and coaching creative, etc.), and/or training marketing managers in leadership communications.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney
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