The One Thing More Important Than Your Communication Strategy

I’m a firm believer that all marketing is communications and all communications is marketing. As a professional with years of experience in these areas, it’s hard to admit that there might be something more important than a strategic marketing and communication strategy. But there is.

And what is this one thing?

The decisions you make that lead to the actions you take.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “What you DO speaks so loudly I can’t HEAR what you’re saying.”

No organization can outlast a constant barrage of dumb decisions. No matter how hip your logo is or how consistent your branding is, you can’t “out-communicate” what people see you actually doing.

  • You say you value diversity, but your leadership is homogeneous.
  • You say something is a priority, but it doesn’t get funded, you never hear about it and you don’t see any changes.
  • Your tagline says you’re creative, but you don’t take any risks and fail to try anything new.
  • Your slogan says you “value relationships” but you have an automated phone tree that makes it virtually impossible to talk to a real person.
  • You make a big splash about a “new strategy” or mission, but in practice, it’s business as usual.

Your brand is the combination of the decisions you make and the actions you take COMBINED with your chosen “look and feel” along with the stories you tell about your organization. Marketing encompasses everything that leaves an impression on your audience.

What you desire is alignment between what you do and what you say. “Authentic” communication happens when these two activities align. It’s not forced, it’s not contrived, it’s natural. It’s believable because it’s true.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Make better decisions on the front-end, so your communications team has something “real” to say on the back-end.

Top 5 Goals of a Communications Director

Goals, wishes, objectives or directives, whatever you call them, we all need them. It’s good to have something out there so you can get a sense of how well you’re doing at your job.

I’m sure there are others that can be added, but these are mine.

  1. The number one job of the communications director is to ELIMINATE CONFUSION.
  2. The preaching pastor’s job it to proclaim the WORD of God…my job is to proclaim the current on ongoing WORKS of God that are happening at the church.
  3. Close the “celebration loop.” Make sure we are recognizing the work and results of major events.
  4. Maintain excellence, brand consistency, readability and clarity…speak with one voice. If a new person, unfamiliar with your church can understand what you’re saying, you’re doing the right thing.
  5. Innovate, stay creative, raise the bar high…then push it higher.

 

What Exactly Does A Director of Communications Do?

Several people have recently asked me “What exactly does a Director of Communication do?” Many people mistake that your role is limited to graphic design, the web or the Sunday bulletin. I have several answers I use in an attempting to clarify the role.

Here are my three favorites.

Communications = Marketing

In the business world, they use the term “Marketing”. In the church world, they use “Communications.” The Director of Communications is the marketing arm of the church, responsible for the overall branding of the church when it comes to print, video, the web, social media, PR, etc.

In the same way, it would be foolish for a business not to consult their marketing department before coming out with a new product, churches would be wise to consult their Communications Department before launching a new event, program or ministry. If they are doing their job correctly, a Communications Department can be a great “in-house consultant” by offering event and ministry branding as well as suggesting creative ways to ensure maximum visibility to the target audience.

Megaphone of the Church

The Communications Director is the megaphone of the church. Their job is not to make up the message…just say it louder. While they can help craft and polish the verbiage once it has been determined, it is critical that Senior Leadership (especially the Senior Pastor) buys in.

If you aren’t clear on what you are trying to communicate, neither can I. The saying is still true, “If it’s foggy from the pulpit, it’s cloudy in the pew.” The last thing you want is the Communications Department blowing smoke.

Air Traffic Controler

The Director of Communication’s job is to see all the communications needs of the church that are in the air and to make sure each one lands safely and nothing gets lost.

  • You’ve got to line them up as they are getting ready for takeoff (to ensure all the desired support material can be created in a timely fashion.)
  • Make sure nothing occupies the same airspace (avoiding competing events on the same date and protect your designers, so they are not overwhelmed by multiple and conflicting requests.)
  • Clear the runway when the Senior Pastor launches a “special project.”
  • Ensure all planes are parked and readied for their next flight when they land (as you close, clean up, evaluate and celebrate projects.)
  • Ensure the ground crew is informed, trained and motivated to do their job well.
Gingerbread Man?

I have no idea what this person was thinking when they chose a cookie to represent the Director of Communication’s role, but they nailed the desired skillset.

communications

Announcements By Any Other Name…

“Let’s stop doing announcements.”

We will use the time instead to “cast vision.”

Whenever I hear conversation like this, I know that whoever is speaking doesn’t realize that EVENTS are the most practical outworking of VISION that you have.

It’s similar to priorities. Don’t tell me you value something…let me look at your checkbook.

The problem comes when you only mention the event “facts” (date, time, place, etc) without explaining the reason for why you are having the event in the first place. My blog post What And The Why goes into detail on this idea.

If you are not willing to promote the event, why are you having it in the first place? People watch what you DO as much as what you SAY. If you want to let people know something is important, sometimes you have to over emphasize. If you don’t go out of your way to make something a big deal, why should they?

announcements

The MAN, The METHOD and The MESSAGE

We all know that alignment, clarity and authenticity are critical to communication success. So why does it seem so elusive?

From my experience you need three components in place:

The Man*

You need a person thoroughly convinced in their ideas, confident in their presentation and unwavering in their belief. This person has something they want to accomplish and can articulate what it is.

*It’ would be more accurate to say a “person” (man or woman), but using a “P” messed up my alliteration.

The Method

This person can “see the end in mind” BEFORE it is a reality and needs a way of turning their ideas into action. They need to take an approach that leverages their strengths and giftings, as well as the strengths and giftings of their team. As they encounter obstacles (as they inevitably will), they know when to modify their approach, when to persist…or both.

The Message

The message that flows from this person is becomes “them” when it is from “them”. When it is their ideas, their words, their phrases, it allows their passions to come though. They have wrestled with the ideas, the upsides and the downsides and can answer the naysayers thoughtfully, with confidence.

Parroting someone else’s ideas when you haven’t bought into them yourself is a sure way to fail in your messaging.

This person now gathers a team that buys into BOTH the goal AND the method**.

  • With this team they are able to build momentum and gain support.
  • With this support they attract people and influence they need to make progress.
  • With progress comes credibility which attracts even more resources
  • Now, you’ve got the the ball rolling…keep it up!

** If you have a group that only buys into one side (the goal OR the method), you immediately set yourself up for persistent conflict and confusion. It will slow you down, cause you to spin your wheels and drain your energy. 

Count Syllables not Words

Part of making something memorable is making it short. This is especially true when it comes to the “bulleted version” of your mission statement. I use to think you had to limit the number of concepts. But as I looked at and interacted ours (I didn’t write it) I got to thinking there was something more.

Loving God
Loving People
Sharing the Gospel (and)
Serving the Word

As I was breaking it down, here’s what I discovered…

4 concepts
11 words
16 syllables

No wonder it feels like a mouthful!

Here’s one I heard recently that is much simpler. 

Rescue
Raise
Release

3 concepts
3 words
5 syllables

While it’s much easier to say (the the R’s give it a nice ring), as a mission statement, it’s has some “interpretation” challenges. For example, we don’t rescue….the Lord does. Our job is to be a faithful witness. So “Rescue” really means be a witness. Raise really means to disciple someone (like you raise a child to maturity. And lastly, it’s not our job to release someone for service. While may need to exhort someone to “love and good works“, we can’t release someone to do something that’s a command for every believer.

This next one is one of my favorite examples.
Not only is is simple to understand, it’s directional as to what behaviors we’re looking for someone to do (pray for someone, look for ways to show genuine acts of caring kindness, then be prepared to share with them the hope we have in Jesus.)

Prayer
Care
Share

3 concepts
3 words
3 syllables

While it’s a bit weak as being inspirational as a mission statement ie “Make Champions for Christ” its great for easily sharing strategy and methodology.

All this to say, the best mission is the one that’s used. And the more that its easier to communicate and remember, the more likely it’s going to get used.

PS. While we’re on the subject, mission statements are by far one of the easiest things to poke fun at. Here are a few comics that do just that.

Curated Content

Question:

What is the difference between a museum and a hoarder?

Answer:

Curation.

Defined:

curate

[n. kyoo r-it; v. kyooreyt, kyoo r-eyt]
verb (used with object), curated, curating.

to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)

to curate a photography show.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content:

“We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,”the store manager explained. More>>

Application:

Like a museum, there is more in the vaults than on display. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you need to show it. As someone in charge of communication, it’s your job to start directing, organizing and sifting through content to help the best stories, the best pictures and the best videos come to light. Know your themes…be looking for items that are a good fit with what you are trying to communicate.

Without curation, we all would be overwhelmed (Do we really need to see all 1,500 photos from that last photo shoot?) Get rid of the junk. Let the cream rise to top.

Begin with the end in mind. Help guide your audience so, when they leave your content, they are clear what the top priority impressions you were trying to make.

When done properly, content curation creates synergy…where the whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

A few helpful curated graphics on curation:

Know Your Personal Bandwidth

bandwidth

bandwidthThis last week I had the privilege of attending the Sticky Teams Conference 2014 in Vista, California, with speakers Matt Chandler, Mike Erre, Larry Osborn and Chris Brown. The focus of the conference was building great teams.

Matt Chandler mentioned the concept of “personal bandwidth” more than once and I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot. As PR consultant Stephanie Shirley put it “Just like the bandwidth on your internet determines the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time, we each have our own bandwidth for the amount of work we can individually take on in a single day.” More>>

The same goes for our teams, our departments and other key individuals in our lives. This is not an issue of righteousness or godliness or even niceness…it’s “the energy of mental capacity required to deal with a situation.” Some jobs in key roles need the capacity of “high bandwith people.” This is especially true of growing organizations or during times of transition. Some people thrive in smaller, simpler environments…and that’s OK. But we do a disservice to ourselves and our teams when we put low bandwidth people in high bandwith areas. The person will eventually become frustrated, overwhelmed, burnt out and their areas of responsibility will suffer. This isn’t good for anyone.

Part of the bandwidth issue is training, skills and gifting. For example, if you put me in accounting, I know that I would get overwhelmed fast. As business author Jim Colins says, It’s not enough to get the right people on the bus…you have to get the right people in the right seats. More>>

I’m a big believer that people can increase their personal bandwith with strategic organization and planning. Personally, following the ideas contained in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done has been a big help for me in handling more work with less stress. Knowing yourself is a key ingredient in maximizing your bandwith. Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you prefer bright lights or softer light. What kind of work environments do you thrive in. How do you get more of that?

Another way to increase your “capacity” is to simply work harder and put in more hours. (I know from what I’ve seen working in a church the last eight years, the lack of work ethic on some people “in the ministry” is an issue that I’m repeatedly amazed at.)

Appropriate “bandwith” cannot be assumed. The best predictor for future capacity is past performance.  People who get things done, have gotten things done in the past. That’s why this saying rings true, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

In reflecting on my work situation, the team I have in the Communications Department is filled with a high capacity, skilled hard working people. It allows our department to get more done in less time. And for that, I’m grateful.

Me and a colleague taking a selfie with the speakers : )

We have several pastors attending the Sticky Teams conference down in Vista. Stoping to take a selfie with speakers. #StickyTeams

A post shared by Trinity Church – Redlands, CA (@trinityredlands) on

20 Ways We Communicate To Our Church

There are lots of ways to “get the word out” when it comes to church communications. This past Sunday I has the opportunity to remind our congregation about some of the many ways they can get the information they need to stay informed and connected. While it’s easy for me to just say “check out the website”, our church skews older, so I broke it down into Non Digital and Digital ways, so nobody felt left out.

This list is not exhaustive…

I didn’t include any announcements that that Pastor might give before or during the sermon, the PowerPoint loop we run before the service, posters and flyers that we put around campus, talking to their small group leader or a simple email or phone call to the Pastor of their choice. It is a good reminder, there is no one magic bullet. Even with all this communication going on, people still miss things and messages fall though the cracks. And this doesn’t even address how we communicate mission and vision. Everything works a little bit, nothing works all the time. 

A phone tree or text tree would be a nice tool to add to the arsenal. If we had more resources I might consider a monthly mailer. But with postage where it is, and more and more people moving to digital, it seems like long term, digital is a better use of our limited resources.

Book Review: The Art of Explanation

I recently finished reading the book The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever. Lee is famous his “paper cutouts on a whiteboard” explanation videos. The first one I encountered was called RSS in Plain English, showing how this new technology helps you save time reading items on the web. His straightforward explanation has helped over 2,000,000 people better understand WHY they should care about this technology.

Lee started his company Common Craft specializing in “helping the world become a more understandable place to live and work.” One of the premises Lee has, is that there is a worldwide explanation problem and that the adoption of an idea is often limited by how the idea is being explained.

Lee does a great job of explaining “explanations” and gives some very practical ideas on how to make your ideas, products and services easier to understand. He identified “the curse of knowledge”as being one of the key problems that leads to confusion. I highly recommend this book.

After reading it, I thought it would be fun to do a short book review in “Common Craft Style.” Making one of theses video seemed fairly straight forward. You have cut-out paper puppets, hand motions with a simple voice over. How hard could it be? Here is the final result:

Five lessons I learned making a “Common Craft” style video…

  1. Common Craft Video SetupIt’s harder than it looks – I have 8 hours invested in the above 2 minute video. While it’s not terrible, there are so many things that I would have done differently. And I didn’t even draw any of the paper puppets! I’m sure it would get easier over time, but you need to know there is going to be a significant investment of time before you embark on a project like this.
  2. It’s all about the script – Lee makes this point in his book…while he is know for the look of his videos, it is the script (ie. the explanation) that takes the most time to perfect. The animations, hand motions and script should all work together help move the explanation forward.
  3. Time yourself first – It seems obvious, but if it takes 10 seconds to read your lines, you should have 10 seconds of video to go along with it. Otherwise you have to re-shoot or you have to cut your script. Neither of these are ideal.
  4. Get a bigger white board – The white board I used was relatively small and had a boarder. This lip made it difficult to move objects off and on the white board…they kept getting stuck.
  5. It was fun – I have to admit, I had fun with this project. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll use this style of video in the future, but it was a fun exercise to try. Making this video helped me wrestle though much of what I learned in the book and that helped cement it in my mind.