Blog Post

Sailing Aboard the Communications Ark

July 18, 2011

The phenomenal amount of rain we had in Denver last week got me thinking: If the world flooded, what kinds of communications tools should we save to support its repopulation, once the waters receded?
(Apparently that’s what you think about the morning after you go to see Georges Bizet’s Carmen…at an outdoor amphitheater…during a monsoon.)
But seriously: We’ve all thought about what is most vital to save in our personal lives. Usually it’s the photo albums, or perhaps a family heirloom.
But what are the most fundamental tools you would put on the communications Ark – if not two-by-two, at least on their own?
Unfortunately, many organizations overlook essential strategic tools, instead pursuing a range of disconnected tactics.
However, it is critical for organizations to spend the time developing some fundamental information. Doing so helps to ensure a clear platform from which to communicate and engender buy-in from a variety of internal stakeholders in the process. These are the building blocks to effective communications.
So, here are my top picks for Ark-worthy communications resources:

  1. Key messages. This is not your mission statement, and it’s not a tagline. Your messages should consist of a broad framework of key claims, supported by evidence and illustrated with real-life examples. They need to articulate who you are, what you do and why it matters to your audiences – helping to connect the dots between what you do and what they value.
  2. A list of key contacts and supporters. It takes time to build an internal list of stakeholders and audience members, but it is well worth the effort. (And yes…you DO need their email addresses.)
  3. A definition of your key audiences. No, the general public is not your audience. Your audience should consist of specific groups of individuals you need to educate and move to action to achieve your strategic objectives. Often that includes individuals both inside and outside of your organization, from a variety of industries and disciplines and with a range of involvement in your issues.
  4. Stories. As we’ve said in many media trainings, no one ever cried over a pie chart. Take the time to identify and develop a bank of stories that help to put a face on your issues. You can use them for media pitches, in newsletters and annual reports, and in presentations.
  5. A good Prezi. (Sorry, PowerPoint…no room on the Ark for you.)
  6. Infographics. My colleagues at SE2 make fun of my tendency to use the term to describe a range of visual tools. (See Edward R. Tufte’s seminal book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information for some real examples of data-driven infographics as well as Brandon’s post on how to use infographics in social media.) However, the point is that it is essential to illustrate complex information in a visually compelling way – whether it is data to support your issue or a process that connects what you do to the broader impact that has on your community.
  7. A plan. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s a step that organizations often overlook. Take the time to articulate what you are trying to achieve (Advance public policy? Raise more money?), who you need to influence (Legislators? Donors?) and how you will communicate with them to do that (Direct mail? Presentations? A new website?).

This list may not be exhaustive, but it’s a start. With these basics, you could (once the waters receded) begin again to communicate with your key audiences, ensuring the regeneration of your message and your movement.
Added bonus:
There’s a rafting company called Noah’s Ark in Buena Vista, CO. Who knew?

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