Last month I had the honor of joining an elite panel of communicators from all over the world at the blue ribbon panel judging session for IABC’s Gold Quill awards. It was an incredible experience to decide the merits of the best-of-the-best communications programs in the world with a group of judges from 10 countries and 6 continents. Panel judges paid their own way to serve on this committee — and for many that meant thousands of dollars in travel from thousands of miles away — which is a great indicator of how seriously everyone viewed the responsibility and how much value each judge received in return.
I’ve been banging around thoughts on my blue ribbon panel experience, and I agree especially with fellow-judge (and electronic communications guru) Shel Holtz’ assertion that a number of the entries “applied tremendous creativity and innovation in support of very specific and measurable business goals.”
That, in particular, is what truly set the exceptional entries apart from the rest. Managing toward real, honest-to-goodness business outcomes is the true hallmark of successful PR, whether it be via traditional methods, blogging or even social media.
Communicating strategically toward measurable results was always “the name of the game,” but the new tools available to communicators will only amplify the signal-to-noise ratio unless everything is done towards a purpose. Page views, equivalency to ad dollars, or even press mentions don’t achieve much other than helping communicators appear busy. I had the honor of judging the first-ever entries in social media this year, and it was crystal clear in the judging process which submissions took the time to think about what the desired end results were before they began their campaigns.
In the new age where content (and moreso relevancy) is king, you need to know how to make sure what you’re communicating is moving audiences toward action. And something as simple as an opinion survey or an uptick in sales or referrals (tracked against a benchmark of course) says a ton more than how many times your content has been “dugg.”
If you want to ensure that your next communication campaign produces real results, visit the Gold Quill rules and build your campaign around it. Even if you never enter, your communication effectiveness will skyrocket.
To offer a shortcut at how to make sure your communications are effective, I’ll paraphrase the key items we screened for from the perspective of someone just putting together a communication plan (note that I’ve worded the items below in the present tense to use as criteria/tips… the actual language in the entry criteria is past-tense as they’re intended to judge completed programs. The real list is available from the link above):
- Identify as clearly as possible the Need/opportunity. Be as clear as possible in concrete outcomes.
- Identify your audiences. Demographics, state of mind, background, likely viewpoints.
- Goals and objectives: Describe what your communication project is designed to accomplish. Goals should be aligned with your organization’s future needs. Objectives should be realistic and measurable, and should examine outcomes such as quantity, quality, time, cost, percentages or other criteria.
- Outline your project’s solution and the logic that supports it. Think about your thought process, and use imagination in your approach to problem solving. Discuss how you’ll involve stakeholders in developing the solution. Identify key messages, tactics and communication vehicles.
- Implementation and challenges. Discern your project budget. Regardless of how much money you have to use, make sure you’re being as efficient as possible. Decide time frames. Outline any limitations or challenges that you’ll face when communicating and implementing your ideas.
- Measurement/evaluation of outcomes. How will you measure your project’s results? Every result should be linked to one or more objectives. Results must be shown to be valuable, thorough and convincing. Measurement should demonstrate outcomes, not outputs.
As I mentioned, I judged in the brand-new category for Social Media this year. I can’t wait for the winners to be publicly announced so I can talk about a couple of them — there’s brilliant outcomes-based thinking packaged in some really cool technology in the winners.