Your job is to change behavior, not to report news
Might I rant for a moment?
Right this minute, all over the world, communicators are knocking themselves out to deliver organizational news that nobody wants or needs.
We’re exhausting our resources — not the least of which include our own time and our audience members’ attention — making sure the people know who won the Corporate Challenge billiards tournament, how many tons of concrete went into the new headquarters building and how thrilled we are to support the ballet’s spring season.
And we’re definitely making sure they know that IT is entering Phase 6 of a 66-phase campaign to … OMG! I just passed out from boredom for a minute.
- We’re doing battle with approvers over whether to use “that” or “which” in the fourth paragraph of news stories that nobody reads.
- We’re struggling to help content experts beat their 6,000-word essays on the award that engineering won down to the 30 words it actually deserves.
- And we’re smothering our readers with inconsequential blah-blah that doesn’t even serve the organization.
The worst of it is: That’s not our job.
Start doing your real job.
Our job isn’t to deliver news, after all. Our job is to communicate information that helps our organization meet its bottom-line business goals.
That means using the five-step communication-planning process to identify those goals, then developing communication tactics — including editorial — to help us get there.
In marketing communications, that’s fairly easy: Just give targets information they can use to live their lives better that also promotes our products, programs, plans and positions. (I know: just.)
In employee communications, though, it’s tougher.
Develop stories that change employee behavior.
One way to develop editorial concepts that help change employee behavior is the one I used when I was at Hallmark. (Have I mentioned recently that I won a couple of Gold Quills for employee communications while I was at Hallmark? In the last hour? In the last five minutes? I thought so.)
- Prioritize corporate goals. If you’re lucky, executives will prioritize them for you. To rip a list from a favorite client, those might include:
- Focus on growth products
- Innovate in growth markets
- Pursue flawless execution
- Based on those priorities, come up with a percentage for each goal that represents the space you’ll dedicate to covering it. Maybe:
- Focus on growth products: 40%
- Innovate in growth markets: 30%
- Pursue flawless execution: 20%
These are your messages for the whole year. Yup, you’re going to repeat the same three to five (maaaaaaybe seven) messages over and over and over again for a year.
Notice if you haven’t already that the total adds up to less than 100%.
- Develop stories to illustrate those messages. For each message, develop stories that address:
- Where we’re headed. Executive messages, for instance, might focus on the goal and where we are on the road toward achieving it — and thank employees for their contributions to those milestones. Key: Bring these abstract, high-level messages down to earth with analogies and employee stories from the field. Otherwise, these messages are too much of a snooze to do any good.
- How you can help. Illustrate this with:
- Profiles about individuals and teams who are helping the organization achieve its goals. Focus on how team members overcame obstacles to getting the job done.
- “Man on the street” roundups asking employees to describe their role in achieving the goal.
- Service stories with tips and techniques for contributing to the goal, including ideas for overcoming obstacles.
When I work with clients on this process, we’re able to create a year’s worth of story ideas — often a year in advance. It’s easy, once you give up the idea that you’re running a news bureau!
- Allocate the remaining 10% of your coverage to news. Of course you’ll still cover news. It just won’t make up the bulk of your work anymore.
Think of news as nibbles:
- Brisk updates in a New & Noteworthy section
- Events on a calendar
- Lists of deadlines that can be filtered by department or job category
Some news may even rise above this level. Who knows? Maybe the engineering award illustrates “innovate in growth markets.” Now you have the basis for a feature — not on the award itself, but on the accomplishments behind the award.
Why use the strategic editorial approach?
What happens when you scrap the news service approach? You get to:
- Do fewer projects better. To make this work, you need to write a few really colorful, well-developed pieces — not push “post” on hundreds of “news” stories each month. And that’s right: You get time to think. Ahhhhh.
Tired of an approval system where you’re saying yes to dozens of business users who demand regular updates about their business rules, management processes and workflows? Give up the news bureau.
- Be a writer instead of a content manager. The only way to get hundreds of stories out a month is to not write them yourself. That means content experts submit work to your news bureau, then you get to make enemies throughout the organization by turning their boring business processes stories into something slightly less tedious.
No, thank you.
But with the strategic approach, you can ask content experts to fill out simple cloud-based web forms answering who, what, when, where, why, how and why should I care, each in a sentence or two. You choose the most important stories — you only have 10% of your news hole for news, after all — and the intern can craft briefs, calendar events and to-do’s based on a simple template you create.
- Work on a business schedule, not on a newsroom schedule. Breaking news is great for the adrenaline — for a week or two. As a permanent lifestyle, responding to what happened a nanosecond ago wears you out.
Instead of always responding to shiny objects, the message-based approach lets you plan. In fact, there’s no reason you can’t finish most of your copy weeks — even months — before the distribution date.
- Serve the organization instead of feeding the beast. Shoveling content’s not nearly as valuable as helping the organization meet its business goals. Guess which communicator gets the raises and promotions?
Plus, by communicating messages instead of reporting news, you get to have more fun and stop irritating your readers.
Isn’t it time to close down the news bureau today?